Filmmaker Kevin Smith has left his mark on a number of popular characters, from Batman and Green Arrow to Daredevil and Spider-Man. Whether you’re a fan of the man’s work or not, you can’t deny his passion for pop culture, a passion that apparently extends to ’80s action hero He-Man. Launching on Netflix, the sword-wielding, loincloth-wearing adventurer returns in Masters of the Universe: Revelation (2021), an all new animated series produced by Smith and featuring a diverse cast of big-name stars and popular voice actors.
In its debut episode, “The Power of Grayskull,” we’re re-introduced to Eternia, a world where science and sorcery co-exist, and good always conquers evil. As Eternia celebrates the inauguration of Teela as the new Man-at-Arms, its greatest enemy, Skeletor, has launched a sneak attack on Castle Grayskull in an attempt to finally uncover its secrets and obtain the power he’s sought for so long. What follows is an action-packed tale that is both respectful of the franchise while also subverting all expectations to what a He-Man story could and should be. While I won’t go into specifics here, the episode’s earth-shattering climax will certainly prove to be quite controversial as it establishes an entirely new status quo for our heroes (and villains).
Written by show-runner Smith, the first chapter of Revelation serves as a continuation of the original cartoon and a whole new beginning that re-ignites the long-dormant franchise, though it does so at a seemingly great cost. Like much of Smith’s previous work, there is no shortage of fan service on display here, although certain narrative decisions will certainly polarize the very fans to whom he is catering. It’s a risky move, but one that has a great deal of potential. For example, Teela’s promotion from Captain of the Guard to Man-at-Arms serves as a major turning-point, as she seemingly takes the lead in the series going forward.
As a whole, this first episode is a mixed bag. The moments of fan service are great and, while there are many, they don’t overshadow the story. It’s awesome to see characters exclusively from the toyline or comics make their animated debut, even if just for a moment. Likewise, an early bit featuring court jester Orko casting an ill-planned spell on Cringer brings on a wave of nostalgia, as does a particular line lifted directly from the notoriously bad Masters of the Universe live-action film. Unfortunately, the rest of the script doesn’t have quite the same punch. Even the talented cast, including Mark Hamill and Lena Headey, have to work extra hard to deliver lines of dialogue that range from bland to just plain silly.
The animation also leaves a lot to be desired. While it’s certainly a great deal better than the ’80s series, both the style and designs have more in common with the early 2000s series. That’s not necessarily a slight against that show, but with advancements in technology in the last 20 years, this series should look quite a bit better than it does. Despite its shortcomings, the character designs are pretty great, ranging from new and refreshing to familiar and comforting, even if Orko – a personal favorite – simply can’t be made to look cool.