He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was very much a product of the 80s – a platform to sell toys to kids. It’s got that whole machismo thing down pat with an overly muscular man and an overly buff skeleton fighting over a castle that looks like a skull in classic 80s-style animation.
Suffice to say that it’s pretty camp: your lead is a goody-two-shoes Arnold Schwarzenegger archetype with a page boy haircut without a heavy Austrian accent while your main villain is a wisecracking troll and walking meme factory. But it was a feel-good show with a diverse, colourful cast of characters and was great entertainment for kids.
But it is arguably a rather dated formula (albeit a silly, fun one) and Masters of the Universe Revelation needed to be more modern. Well, we can safely that it is very different. While we typically go to great lengths to avoid spoilers, I think this is one of those instances where some spoilers are needed so you’ll know what you’re in for. People can have a very strong opinion on how their favourite franchises are handled, so here we go.
For most people familiar with the original series, Masters of the Universe is pretty much synonymous with He-Man – this is not He-Man and the Masters of the Universe as we know it. This is Teela and the Masters of the Universe. Well, for Part 1, at least.
Revelation Part 1 belongs to Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Captain of the Royal Guard, Andra (Tiffany Smith), Teela’s adventuring companion and potential love interest – at least that’s how it looks like to me – and Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey).
This wasn’t something that was conveyed in the original trailer, though a more recent trailer seemed to suggest that Teela had a major role to play in the series. I feel that it’s not unreasonable for the average fan to expect to see more of He-Man since there was nothing in the marketing to suggest otherwise. However, it’s just the first part of a wider story, so it’s possible that He-Man gets more air time at a later point.
Nonetheless, it’s a dangerous move for nostalgia IPs that operate on sentiment. We only have to look back at the Star Wars fallout as a prime example of how sensitive fans can be to major changes. And that wasn’t aeons ago in a galaxy far, far away.
But back to the show. The five-part series revolves around the trio’s journey to save the Universe from certain destruction after a cataclysmic clash between Skeletor and He-Man causes magic to drain from the planet of Eternia. The first episode kicks off in spectacular fashion, I must say, but things get a little weird quickly.
Teela finds out that she has been kept in the dark over Adam’s secret, loses it, and leaves her post under acrimonious circumstances. When you also consider what is happening to Man-At-Arms at the time, the meltdown looks all the more bonkers; the scene doesn’t reveal the depth of the resentment she’s harbouring, which causes her to snap. I had just watched Kingdom: Ashin of the North and the contrast could not be more jarring. In Kingdom, protagonist Ashin also experiences the revelation of a life-crushing lie but the difference is the story sets the viewer up to feel the emotional weight of that lie. With Teela, all we get are unanswered questions. We can only hope that Part 2 can smoothen out the rough edges. Thankfully, Evil-Lyn was a more sympathetic character. Headey does a stellar job of humanising the villainess, voicing both her strength, vulnerabilities and unexpected compassion, convincingly.
Meanwhile, Man-At-Arms (Liam Cunnigham) and He-Man/Prince Adam (Chris Wood) find themselves with relatively little to do here, and their characters are primarily in introspective mood (re: feeling apologetic) for most of the show. Unfortunately, that’s about as much as we learn about them. Fortunately, Skeletor (Mark Hamill) makes his presence felt, albeit in a far more sinister fashion. Hamill is absolutely killing it when voicing villains. His Skeletor is far more vicious than its 80s incarnation and is the perfect fit for this incarnation of the Universe.
If there’s one thing that Revelations Part 1 does well, it’s in translating the essence of our heroes’ adventures into a modern format. It also helps that the series is chockfull of characters from the original universe, voiced by high-profile voice artists. Alan Oppenheimer, the original Skeletor, lends his voice to Moss-Man, Alicia Silverstone voices Queen Marlena, Henry Rollins brings Tri-Klops to life, Jason Mewes makes his customary appearance as Stinkor, while Justin Long voices Roboto. The production value is simply stellar. The animation, handled by Powerhouse Animation Studios who made Castlevania, is nothing short of fantastic and is worth the ticket price alone.
Aside from the huge ensemble of callback characters there are many references to the original series – even self-referential dad jokes – so you might have a little trouble following in certain moments if you aren’t a fan. At the same time, fans will be faced by a radical reimagining of the universe, which can be polarising, depending on your attitude towards these things.
But credit where credit is due. A dated franchise has been given a new lease of life and I think this new direction has the potential to open new doors if they can land on their feet with this one. Multiple generations of Eternia’s protectors in the future, perhaps? Despite my misgivings about how Teela’s story was handled, Revelation Part 1 is an action-packed adventure that’s in keeping with the spirit of the original. If you can get past the fact that He-Man takes a breather in this one.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation Part 1
Teela and the Masters of the Universe is bumpy in places but it manages to capture some of that old school charm of the 80s.