I decided to resubscribe to Netflix recently after about a year-long hiatus. There was a mountain of TV shows that I wanted to finally watch, one of which was the Masters of the Universe: Revelation series from filmmaker and writer Kevin Smith. I was generally excited for the prospect of seeing the characters I loved as an ’80s kid in a new animation style that is a “darker” sequel to the original story.
When the initial five episodes dropped in July 2021, I saw mixed reviews from my peers. To be honest, the vast majority of my friends were down on the series for a variety of reasons. However, a few friends including my podcast buddy Mickey loved the series. With the mixed reviews, I decided it wasn’t enough to get me back to Netflix. But now with the complete season one story being available (and several other Netflix exclusives I wanted to watch) I pulled the trigger this past weekend to reinstate my membership of the streaming juggernaut.
Just a quick note that SPOILERS are ahead as I dive into the 10 episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation Season 1.
I pretty much stayed away from full reviews of the series until I was able to watch it. I did hear rumblings of the lack of He-Man in the show and that Teela was the main character which maybe dissuaded me to jump back into Netflix in July when the first five episodes were released. But I knew I would eventually want to experience it myself and then go back to read reviews of the series.
After I finished watching the entire series, one initial thought entered my brain. “What would I do if I was given the keys to Eternia?” In other words, I just experienced Kevin Smith’s vision and I wondered what I would do if I had the reins. Then several other questions arose. Would I keep it more of a traditional Filmation story? Would I make it a journey like Smith’s story? Who would my main characters be? As a fan of the original incarnation, I think having these questions on my mind gave me perspective on how to formulate my opinion of Revelation.
One thing I am motivated to do after watching Revelation is to watch the 2002 and new 2021 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated shows (maybe even The New Adventures of He-Man) which I’ve never seen. I’ve delved into different perspectives of the franchise before like the mini-comic books that came with the G1 figures, the Star Comics series from the ’80s, and the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie. But I want to see how other producers and writers have translated MOTU to animation. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving She-Ra out of my equation as I have watched several episodes of the 1985 series and the 2019 Netflix series.
What I Enjoyed
Modern animation can do so much to revive a franchise. I witnessed this with Voltron: Legendary Defender which I thoroughly enjoyed. The animation style for Revelation is so colorful and bright which feels derivative from the original Filmation series. The landscapes, the interiors of Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, and even the refurbished garb of the characters just seemed to feel right.
I also enjoyed all aspects of the audio performances in the show. The voice cast did a fantastic job despite being a mixed group of voiceover professionals and on-screen actors. The emotions from their performances mixed well with the clanging sound effects of battle and a sinister musical score. The audio and visual elements were definitely top-notch.
I liked the origin story. The progression felt natural for Man-At-Arms to “retire” as head of the royal guard and then that title be given to Teela who by this time would have gained the experience and wisdom to take over the position. I also liked the initial conflict of Prince Adam’s secret being revealed. There is so much to be explored as to why the four characters who knew his secret were chosen and why others like Teela and even the King were not included.
I liked that some lesser-known characters got more of a supporting role. Roboto being Man-At-Arms replacement on the journey because he knew how to forge the swords was great. I liked how they included characters like King Grayskull and Scareglow into Preternia and Subternia who up to this point only had action figures or appeared in comics. Giving these types of characters a personality on screen was true fan service, more so than the dozens of small cameo sightings which happened throughout the series.
What I Disliked
My biggest qualm with Masters of the Universe: Revelation is the writing, in particular, the pace and the ending. It felt like the story painted itself into a corner so many times. Instead of dealing with these situations and letting them play out, they chose to open a door to another room and start painting again. For example, the Sorceress is revealed as Teela’s mother. In order to continue the lineage as the caretaker of Castle Grayskull, the Sorceress sets Teela up with her powers. But in the first episode, Teela receives her post as the new Woman-at-Arms but because she felt so disrespected by not being included in Adam’s inner circle, she decides to selfishly quit. Think about this, how crazy would it have been if she had kept the Woman-at-Arms role and was then made to choose between being the successor to her father or her mother? While that situation did not play out, we learn later that there are sacrifices with the role of Sorceress like not being able to leave Castle Grayskull. Instead of Teela making the same sacrifice as her mother (and even an enslaved Evil-Lyn,) this rule is pretty much ignored so Teela can face Evil-Lyn in the final battle.
And speaking of Evil-Lyn, is she bad? Is she good? I guess it depends on the day of the week. Lyn, as she goes by when she’s not evil, has so many face turns in the story. You can sense a conflict in her throughout but at some point, you need to ground a character turned good to feel remorse for their evil deeds. Lyn betrays Skeletor to get her magic back to then betray Teela and the good guys to rejoin Skeletor who she then betrays again because he enslaves her as the Sorceress but then becomes all-powerful to find out the universe means nothing so she betrays Teela and her dead friends by destroying the rewarding afterlife of Preternia only to be defeated by Teela in the end and then go back to caring about Eternia. CBR calls this the best character arc in the story. I call it a rollercoaster ride of not having an end in mind for a character when you originally plot a story.
And speaking of Lyn’s betrayal(s) of Skeletor, why oh why did they have to bring sexual situations into the show?! Had anyone thought up to this point in the history of the franchise that Skeletor kept some of his henchmen around to appease the one bone we thought he didn’t have. Evil-Lyn wields magical powers! Of course you want her on your team to combat the enemy and not because you want her as your sex kitten! To me, that was the epitome of poor writing in the entire series.
Now, back to those lesser-known characters getting larger supporting roles. While we got a few that integrated into the story nicely, I felt there were so many characters included just for fan service. Why bring the vast majority of MOTU characters into a 10 episode season just to kill them off in 5 minutes? You might say that most of them aren’t interesting enough to feature in more than one episode. Well, write something to make them more interesting! I’ve always been a fan of Ram-Man and to give him a 30-second role as a missile was ridiculous. The “final battle” with He-Man and Skeletor could have been an epic one with characters from all over Eternia joining the battle. However, the epic war was more of an afterthought during Teela’s and Evil-Lyn’s battle. Think of how Star Wars movies cut back and forth between several battle sequences in the climax as the good guys work toward one common goal. Revelation‘s final battle between He-Man and Skeletor felt like a footnote.
Also, it’s important to tell the story of new characters who are introduced. Teela’s ubiquitous friend Andra just chews scenery and occasionally shoots her wrist laser. From what I can remember, we don’t know anything about her history outside of bounty hunting with Teela. Give us some back story like who trained her and why she’s so is qualified to be the next Woman-at-Arms as someone who feels like an outsider to the kingdom. It was also no secret that Andra might be there to be Teela’s love interest but it seems even those who wanted an LGBTQ romance to happen weren’t satisfied with how Revelation left Andra and Teela’s romance alone.
Overall, I genuinely feel like Revelation is not written by a longtime Masters of the Universe fan. Smith and his team of writers might have done their research but this story aligns more with what critics look for in modern shows rather than what a fan might write if given the keys to the castle. Revelation‘s Rotten Tomatoes score should tell you enough (which at the time of publishing this review is 91% critics and 41% audience.)
Revelation also barely holds a 50% rating on IMDb and Google reviews, so conservatively, fans are in the middle on this one overall and likely asking themselves “Did I like Revelation enough to collect the toys?” (I’m already finding them at my local Dirt Cheap store which sells closeout merchandise from national retailers like Target.) Fan service is big deal in these modern iterations. When you tell a good modern story from beginning to end that includes copious amounts of fan service, fans know you weren’t just appealing to their nostalgia and will come back for more. (i.e. Ghostbusters: Afterlife.) But when the story breaks down and even breaks its own rules just to be modern, the fan service feels forced and fans won’t return for more.
I feel like Teela’s story of the prodigal daughter needed more of a traditional redemption. Women are strong enough to overcome challenges without having to tear down every man around them or defeat a rival woman. “The Sorceress needs her champion” is a line by Adam in the first episode that resonated with me. It implies that the Sorceress and the Champion work in conjunction to defend Castle Grayskull and not one person can do it alone. Teela making the sacrifice to defend Grayskull by keeping her heritage and keeping Adam as her champion in order to defeat Skeletor seems like a more rewarding end to the story.
After viewing Season 1 of Revelation, I definitely won’t be motivated to watch more. Will I be boycotting Season 2? No, but it will take a lot more than Season 2 to get me resubscribed to Netflix when the Revelation story continues.