For all the posturing on the internet about cartoons and movies being for ‘children’ and are therefore above reproach and criticism, there sure are a lot of adults with strong opinions about “Masters of the Universe: Revelation.” It’s almost as if these things aren’t actually made for kids, but rather for the children in adults.
The discussion surrounding expectations and target audiences is probably more than we can discuss here, but they more than apply to “MOTUR” in a big way. Kevin Smith‘s new Netflix series subverts a lot of expectations that will ONLY trigger adults who grew up with the show, and it’s the intention behind these subversions that require perspective and context instead of outrage. Purposely tanking Rotten Tomatoes scores (currently sitting with a 94% for critics but a 32% for general audiences) because a cartoon didn’t turn out the way you wanted is childish, and I can assure you that the kids you swear it was made for will not and do not have the same reaction.
The fact is “Masters of the Universe” is absolutely gorgeous, telling a well-crafted story and sporting a top notch cast that brings new life into the long standing series.
Created and partially written by nerd god Kevin Smith, “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” immediately goes for the jugular and tears down just about everything you thought you knew about Eternia and the power of Grayskull. The series is part meta-narrative, part reboot, and even part retcon. It is intentionally deconstructive, opening with everything we remember about the 80s show and by the end of the first episode, shattering the glass house of nostalgia into a million pieces. Now I’ll admit my knee jerk reaction was to cry foul at the bait and switch that occurs at the end of the very first episode, and I did for a bit before I sat down to write my thoughts on the series. In retrospect, while this bait and switch feels cruel, it is simply not from a “woke” culture stand point that many of the triggered fan boys believe it to be. Frankly, it’s probably to disguise the twists as well as revamp the series from the ground up, which “MOTUR” does with every single episode.
e’s the thing about this tactic: it is absolutely miserable when done poorly, but requires some critical thinking when done well. “Revelation” is the latter, and forces us to remove those nostalgia googles and admit that not everything we remember as children was as good as we think it was. If you watched “The Toys that Made Us,” you would know that a large chunk of the cartoon and toys were created by goofballs during heavily drug induced sessions, and while sure it’s funny to remember the silliness, it is wrong to idolize them as gods with infallibility.
That’s not to say you can’t love the original “Masters of the Universe,” simply that we have to accept that we aren’t in the 80s anymore, and things can and should be updated accordingly if we want to journey back to them. The retconning and rebooting of “Revelation” allows for new writers to reinvent old characters and give more depth and layers to otherwise one dimensional ones, further the story beyond the stalemate of the original, and yes, eliminate some of the more sexist and misogynistic elements that permeate much of the content from that time period. I’m not saying He-Man is sexist, I’m simply saying that Kevin Smith’s bait and switch, new story for new characters for a new generation allows for everyone involved to eliminate any of that if it were present.
If you can let go of all of this, “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” is one helluva ride and one worth taking. Sporting an incredible cast that includes Mark Hamill as Skeletor, Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Teela, Stephen Root as Cringer, Chris Wood as He-Man and Liam Cunningham as Man-at-Arms. That’s just a fraction of the main cast, as other notable names include Alicia Silverstone, Diedrich Bader, Jason Mewes, Kevin Conroy, Henry Rollins, Justin Long, and Kevin Michael Richardson, to name a few. Basically anyone with a speaking role is someone, and it lends to the reach of Kevin Smith to get the best of the best while also adding a gravitas to just about every single character in the show. It is also gorgeous, sporting some of the best animation I’ve seen in a while. Powerhouse Animation Studios does some truly impressive work here, breathing fresh life into every single frame. It is colorful, vibrant and teaming with life, and sets “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” apart from a majority of its counterparts.
The series is also paced really well, telling a solid narrative filled with adventure, battles, magic, and cheeky dialogue. Though “Revelation” seeks to minimize its roster from the outset, it is still a sprawling cast of characters that all get their due and key moments throughout the series. Without spoiling anything, I will reveal one thing that I think is really important and may or may not enhance or better your viewing experience knowing this before hand: “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” is a Teela story. She is the main protagonist throughout the entire series at least for part one, and it’s important to understand that this is intentional from the get go. Again, my first reaction was to be upset about this because I didn’t know that going into it, but after some time of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that that is perfectly fine. It’s a damn good Teela story, and a good “Masters of the Universe” entry that builds upon the world created while simultaneously building their own.
I’m still not entirely settled on the way the series ends, as it does some things that don’t quite sit right even now. Part 1 of “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” goes for broke not just with the mid-season resolution, but also a cliffhanger ending. In theory, these beats are fine and function the way that they’re suppose to in that some of them might even make your jaw drop if you aren’t ready for it (which I most certainly was not). Others feel a little forced and out of place, with certain characters doing some about facing that doesn’t quite fit as well with the overall narrative or development of their character arc. The thing is, there’s much to be desired on purpose because there’s more to come. This is very important because without this context and foreknowledge, you’d be forgiven for feeling like it doesn’t quite work. Hell, it may even leave you frustrated, but knowing that this is only half the story helps ease some of those frustrations because we know that many of the questions will have answers.
Overall I enjoyed the hell out of “Masters of the Universe: Revelation.” Expectations aside, I found the story compelling and well done, the artwork to be absolutely dazzling, and the voice cast to be as stellar in practice as it looks on paper. I heard someone refer to “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” as “The Last Jedi” of the 80s cartoon, and while this meant to be slanderous, I actually think that’ more accurate as a compliment.
Let the past die, kill it if you have to. There’s a new world to be explored beyond Eternia and new characters to follow beyond He-Man.
“Masters of the Universe: Revelation” is that next step, one we should all take. You’ll be glad you did, and by the power of Grayskull, we may just get one of the best new cartoons Netflix has to offer.