After a ton of hype, decades of anticipation and more than a trace of your typical internet “fan” drama, the first five episode act of Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation is finally here. But was it worth the wait? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
What’s readily apparent from the opening few scenes of the first episode is that Revelation perfectly captures the tone of the iconic Filmation series, delivering a familiar blend of slightly camp fantasy and cheesy humour. What this new series also manages to add to the mix, however, are some genuine stakes, sacrifice and drama – things that, let’s be honest, the original series was sorely lacking.
The first episode starts out in familiar enough territory, with Skeletor’s latest attempt to get his hands on the power of Grayskull. Orko is a goof, Cringer is scared of everything and Adam and Teela have their usual sibling-esque banter. It’s a lot like reuniting with an old friend as things play out in somewhat predictable fashion – until they don’t.
Suffice to say, things take a fairly unexpected turn, setting up an intriguing new status quo and an intriguing new direction for the show as it continues.
Before I get into the meat of the review, let’s address the elephant in the room. If you’ve been on social media at all lately, you’ll likely have heard the same outcry about the show’s “woke SJW agenda” (which basically translates to Teela taking a bigger role in the first arc of the story). If you’re any sort of MOTU fan at all, this should hopefully provide a welcome change from the somewhat played-out “He-Man punches the bad thing until it goes away, Skeletor gets thwarted, Orko makes a bad joke and we get a nice moral at the end” formula. If not, and if Teela taking a bigger role is an insurmountable obstacle to your enjoyment, well, I think you may have bigger issues that perhaps need examining, and at any rate, there’s still 130 episodes of the original series (and 39 of the 2002 reboot) for you to enjoy if that formula is all you’re interested in.
Moving on, and quickly allaying one of my chief concerns about this new series, I’m happy to confirm that the voice cast do a great job with what they’re given here, putting their own unique stamp on the established characters while still staying true to the classic voice work of Erwin, Oppenheimer, Gary, Scheimer et al. Mark Hamill is naturally fantastic as Skeletor, and Lena Headey is clearly having a blast as Evil-Lyn, but for me it’s Liam Cunningham’s Man-at-Arms who steals the show with his cracking blend of weary warrior and proud father. Plus, more Davos is always a good thing, right?
Thankfully, the fan service is on full display throughout, too. It was always considered a treat in the classic show when a new character showed up, with the bulk of the episodes only featuring the same half dozen or so faces. By just the end of the first episode, we’ve already seen the likes of Spikor, Fisto, Clamp Champ and Moss Man (in all his Swamp Thing glory) along with a plethora of classic vehicles like Bashasaurus, a fleet of Rotons… hell, even a Land Shark or two for good measure.
The animation is similarly slick, packed with dynamism throughout. It’s not quite as manga influenced as the well-recieved 2002 series, but still has a lot of detail and depth to it, and is obviously light years ahead of the charmingly reused animations of the Filmation version. The character designs are authentic and familiar in the main, and the tweaks made along the way all feel natural and organic to the story (Tri-Klops in particular is fantastic).
It all feels fresh yet familiar, taking this established and beloved world and putting a brand new spin on it, raising the stakes and putting these classic characters in some exciting new situations in exciting new configurations. There’s definitely a lot here to reel in a new generation of viewers, but for long-time fans, the blend of fan service and the bold new direction should be more than enough to keep them coming back.
Personally, as someone who has been a die-hard Masters of the Universe fan since my parents first bought me He-Man, Skeletor, Mer-Man and Zodac back when l was just four years old, this feels like a love letter to my childhood, taking the franchise I love, shining it up and setting it off in an fresh new direction. I’ve already hungrily devoured the five episodes that have been released, and can’t wait to see the rest as soon as they become available.