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Masters Of The Universe Revelation [Part One] (2021)

There's nothing new about bringing back favourites of yesteryear. The 80s and 90s have proved very fruitful for searching for properties that are ripe for revival. Normally when a kids' show is resurrected, it is primarily aimed at a new, young audience. If the new versions are also able to appeal to adults who grew up with the original, then that's just a bonus. Netflix's new limited series Masters of The Universe: Revelation is an outlier in this regard. This is aimed squarely at the adults who grew up watching He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe on its original run in the 80s (or on subsequent reruns in later years). It's also not a reboot or a remake but a sequel to the series.

Masters Of The Universe: Revelations is produced by Mattel Television in association with Netflix, with animation produced by Texas-based studio Powerhouse Animation (Castlevania). Indie film-maker and uber-geek Kevin Smith heads up the creative team as showrunner and story editor. The series is being released in two parts, with the first five episodes streaming from July 23, 2021.

Revelation's approach could hardly be more different than DreamWork's recent reboot of She-Ra, which doesn't much resemble its source material outside the basic concept. This is still very much a version updated version for modern audiences, but it's also still recognisably Masters of The Universe.

For all its retro charm, only the most rabid MOTU-head would argue that the original series was high-art. It was a cheerfully cheaply made glorified toy commercial with cheesy dialogue. But it's also indisputably iconic and made an indelible mark on pop culture- and it had one of the best villains of all time.

Smith's goal was to make Revelation into not the series as it actually was but instead true to how you remember it. The shows and films you watched in your youth are improved in retrospect through nostalgia and the fact you were young when you watched it. Making something that can compete with that is no easy task.

The first episode gets underway with a tone that is very much consistent with the original. Although the quality of the animation has had a considerable upgrade, the writing definitely still feels straight out of an 80s cartoon. At a certain point, the story takes a turn, and it becomes clear that the stakes are much higher than before. This is a series where people can actually die, and it's not all going to be tied up neatly in 20 minutes so we can get to the educational bit. From here on out, things are going to get real.

Although this is labelled as adult animation, it, fortunately, hasn't got carried away with its new freedom. The swords might actually be able to actually make contact with people this time, but don't go expecting Castlevania-style ultra-violence. Similarly, there's no sexual content and there's not really much in the way of bad language (one amusing use of "bollocks" from one of the show's Brit cast members aside). This might be a surprise to some for who Smith's involvement had them fearing the worst.

Smith's own work (in films and podcasts) may lean towards the crude, but he's also had some success writing comics for the likes of DC and directing episodes of mainstream TV series like Supergirl and Reaper- he's more than capable of reining it in when required. There may be some fans who were hoping for He-Man to go full Game Of Thrones, but it was absolutely the right call. It would feel out of place to have gone in that direction and would make it feel like a different show. 

It does begin to feel very much like a bigger show, however. There's definitely an epic feel to it that wasn't there in the original series. With the raised stakes and a more serious (but not too sombre) tone, it's more than just the original show with a fancy lick of (digital) paint.

That epic feel is helped in no small way by a first-rate score from acclaimed composer Bear McCreary,  previously best known for his music for Battlestar Galactica (2004) and The Walking Dead.

The animation quality is a world away from its 80s predecessor, which is most obviously apparent in the excellent action set-pieces. Directors Patrick Stannard and Adam Canarroe graduate from animators on Castlevania and Seis Manos to first-time directors and arrive fully formed film-makers.

You may have noticed that I haven't really gone into much details about the plot. Smith made some pretty bold decisions with where the story goes, and it's extremely tricky to talk about without venturing into spoiler territory.  This direction has not been particularly well-received by some fans, but it adds an element of unpredictability to the whole affair. 

One of these decisions is a change-up in character focus, with the character of Teela getting a beefed-up role and essentially stepping into the role of the protagonist for much of the series- note that He-Man isn't even in the title.  Now voiced by 90s girl-power icon and Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar, 2021's Teela is a feisty, fearsome warrior who is equal to any of Eternia's men. Strong women are at the very heart of this series, with major parts for Evil-Lyn (Lend Headey) and Andra (Tiffany Smith) an obscure character from the original given a more prominent role. Chris Wood (Supergirl) does a decent job as He-Man/Prince Adam but if we're all honest, He-Man himself was never the most interesting part of Masters Of The Universe. One of the smartest decisions was to make this into more of an ensemble series than focussing on one character.

In the sequel's most inspired bit of casting, Mark Hamill adds Skeletor to the list of iconic villains he has voiced in his work as a voice actor. He's predictably brilliant, although his screentime in the first half is sadly limited.

The rest of the cast is packed with stars, including Dennis Haysbert, Liam Cunnigham,  Kevin Michael Richardson and Alica Silverstone, as well as career voice actors such as Kevin Conroy, Phil LaMarr and Cree Summers. Original Skeletor Alan Oppenheimer also pops up in a small role, as do Kevin Smith View-Askewuverse regulars Jason Mewes and Harley Quinn Smith.

Although original fans are the prime target audience, newcomers needn't feel too daunted. Viewers with a detailed knowledge of and love of the original franchise will, naturally, get the most out of Revelation. However, it still works as a standalone experience, where you can pick up everything you need to know from the new series in no time. The chances are that a significant proportion of the potential audience will not have seen the series in many years, or not have seen it at all. Even if you've never seen an episode though, there's a significant chance you'll have picked up some of it through cultural osmosis over the years. The balance between paying respect to the original and being accessible is extremely tricky, but they pull it off about as well as they could have. How the series will be viewed overall will in the end depend on if the section half is able to stick the landing. With this half ending a killer cliffhanger, you'll be eager to see how it turns out.

Still, it's not exactly Shakespeare and it isn't going to have the same cultural impact as the original did all those years ago. Fun as it's still pretty disposable and isn't likely to linger in the memory for too long. 

Minor gripes aside, this is an impressive achievement.  It's a remarkably earnest affair and pretty straightforward. A couple of extremely light jabs aside, it doesn't make fun of or look down on the original and it never gets meta. It's honestly pretty refreshing. Exciting, action-packed and made with skill by Powerhouse's artists at the top of their game, the series genuinely is something of a Revelation. Ultimately, Masters Of the Universe Revelation is better than it had any right to be.

The series is accompanied by a short Aftershow called Master of The Universe Revelation Revelations. Fronted by Smith, an always enthusiastic and affable host, it features behind the scenes secrets and interviews with the voice cast. It's definitely worth a watch if you enjoy the series.



IN A NUTSHELL:  Slickly made and skillfully executed, Revelation is more than mere nostalgia. It still has The Power to entertain.