Created by: Kevin Smith
Voices: Chris Wood, Mark Hamill, Liam Cunningham
Streaming on: Netflix
I’ll admit, it is hard for me to be objective in a review for Netflix’s new show from the Masters of the Universe (MOTU) franchise. I had prioritized my Friday evening binge over other worldly matters, with some ale on the left and 30+ year old He-Man classic toys plonked on the right, with the intention of holding aloft the ones that appeared on screen and taking a swig.
Therefore, I imagine it is exponentially harder to follow up and reinvent a franchise that has a passionate, loyal fan base across two separate generations. The results, unless perfect, will always be divisive.
For those living under a rock, or with zero access to Doordarshan in the 80s or Cartoon Network in the 2000s, He-Man & The Masters of The Universe, is one of the world’s biggest toy franchises – rivalled in its global appeal only by Barbie, GI Joe and Transformers. The shows and the toys focus on Adam, Prince of Eternia, Defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to him the day he held aloft his magic sword and said, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!“. Cringer became the mighty BattleCat and Adam became He-man, the most powerful man in the universe. Only three others share this secret: the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Orko. Together they defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.
Yes, I know the voice most of you read the last few lines in!
That is exactly why the direction Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation takes by the end of the first episode came as no surprise. To take the focus away from the core character and deliver something new, fresh and imaginative was the right way to go. To its credit, the bait and switch is deftly executed. The first half of the show’s 5 episode season one had me hooked.
Without spoilers, the series reimagines the He-Man universe radically and most of it works. I also can confirm that there are ample nods to your favourite (and some easter-egg) characters from the original series; along some strong story arcs for fan favourites like Evil-Lyn, Teela and Orko. These keep the fun quotient high and the narrative machine running smoothly for the first three episodes.
However, it is from the middle of the fourth episode that the series nosedives in terms of pacing, dialogue, and action. One also immediately knows that there are some ‘sequel maneuvers’ incoming, the kind that make sacrifices meaningless and character moments unearned.
There is a caveat here, of course. MOTU: Revelations is meant to be treated as a two-parter, with episode 5 being a sort of mid-season finale. I follow the franchise, so I know that. But without that knowledge, the season finale “The Forge at the Forest of Forever” delivers a sequel-baiting, plot-twist ending that you will either love, or furiously throw your remote at. It was the the latter for me. As a fan, I furious at being denied my pay-off.
With a decent 5 episode run, MOTU: Revelations had a clear opportunity to drive home the nostalgia, build upon the successes of the 2002 show as well as the mythology of the DC Comics run. The show, executive produced by everyman’s geek Kevin Smith and voiced by a talented cast, including Mark Hamill, Alicia Silverstone and Leana Headey, tries to deliver all of these and nearly succeeds. I suspect the team flew too close to the proverbial (Eternia) Sun – or perhaps it’s just hard to not nitpick or be infuriated by a revival of a franchise so beloved, that nearly had everything going for it, but fails at the end.
MOTU: Revelation will be an extremely divisive show, and while it eventually had its flaws, imagination was not one of them. Or perhaps, that is the point of any toy-based franchise, that every new day gives you a different way to play and end the story.