Ah yes, Saturday morning cartoons. Who could forget waking up early to watch “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. The latest episode of “Justice League Unlimited”. And of course the legendary exploits of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. Chalk full of idealistic heroes, quirky side characters, iconic villains with a sprinkling of bloodless beatdowns to keep the ratings kid-friendly. With the rising tide of anime and the dwindling of traditional 2-D animation in western TV shows, is this at last the end of an era? Has the sun finally set on that seamlessly endless Saturday morning? Interestingly enough, there seems to be a stay of execution. Dare we say, even a revival.
With Warner Bros showing renewed interest in the classic “Batman: The Animated Series” and the founding of Avatar Studios, the future seems optimistic for nostalgia hungry man-children. Which brings us to Netflix’s very own attempt to capitalize off this resurgence. Enter “Masters of the Universe: Revelation”, the successor to the original “He-Man” series of the 1980s. The original wasn’t exactly a shining paragon of brilliant writing or groundbreaking animation but it does hold a special place in our hearts. The question is: Does it at least do justice to its predecessor?
Right from the very first episode, “Masters of the Universe” looks to throw fans back into familiar territory with the exploits of He-Man and Teela. Their arch-nemesis Skeletor is at it again with yet another evil plan to take over the planet of Eternia. Only this time, however, he finally succeeds in breaking the power of Gray-Skull. Inadvertently erasing himself and He-Man from time and space. Left in the wake of this tragedy, it’s up to Teela, Orko and Duncan to pick up the pieces and carry on. With Skeletor and He-Man gone, the balance of power has shifted. Snake Mountain has left a power vacuum and new heroes will rise to take the place of the fallen champion.
Much like HBO Max’s “Young Justice: Outsiders”, Netflix’s “Masters of the Universe” has a lot more freedom to explore more mature themes and pursue plots of greater complexity. Free from those pesky censor-rating boards. Unfortunately (or thankfully depending on your taste), “Masters of the Universe” doesn’t really bother to do so. All the goofy aspects and tension-killing foibles of the original are on display. As if they never really left. Sure, the plot is grander and the looming wars boast higher stakes for our heroes and villains. It’s all undermined…by our heroes and villains.
The dialogue here…it’s just as corny and exasperating as we remember. The puns here will be the death of us because everyone is indulging in it! Whether in moments of levity or in the heat of battle, you can always count on someone breaking the tension with one out of place phrase. They clash with the graver tone that “Masters of the Universe” labours so hard to establish.
Again we state, it’s really based on your preference. We were honestly hoping for a real sense of growth and evolution to the He-Man Universe. Not to completely abandon its roots per se but to try to innovate with some bold new ideas and compelling character arcs. Instead, the show seems obsessed with taking you through this tour of fan-favourites. Hey, remember Beast Man and Evil-Lyn? Remember Stinkor and Tri-klops? Only in the final two episodes of the series do the creators and writers get to the story they were trying to tell all this while. At the very least, the series ends on a hell of a cliffhanger.
We also question the series’ need to stretch out its plot into five 25-minute long episodes. Not unlike “Eden”, we believe the series would have benefitted from merely being a solid 2-hour long film. Cut out the fat and keep the plot tighter and more focused.
The casting for the show is simply impeccable. In terms of the roles assigned to voice actors, we couldn’t be happier. Chris Wood brings a bouncy adolescent charm when he inhabits the character of Prince Adam. When it’s time for He-Man to emerge though, his entire tone, cadence and sound changes. His voice takes on an almost theatrical like substance as he reads out some of the cheesiest lines in the most regal and commanding of voices. It gets us every time. Other standouts include Liam Cunningham from “Game of Thrones” as Duncan and Stephen Root as Cringer. Faithful to their characters down to a fault.
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Teela was a bit of a mixed bag for us. In spite of the fact that Gellar is given a significant role in this season, it doesn’t take long for her to be thrust into the backseat. Leaving us with little room to better understand Teela. Hopefully, that’s rectified in its future seasons. Lena Headey does a fabulous job as the dastardly sorceress Evil-Lyn! At last, we come to the legend himself, the true voice of the Joker, Mark Hamill. He completely reinvents Skeletor. This version sounds like he’s having a blast just being evil. A stark contrast to the flat delivery of the original. It’s such a treat to see how the actor bounces between wicked gaiety and maniacal cruelty so effortlessly. Then again, he’s had years of experience.
Powerhouse Animation, the studio behind “Castlevania”, is firing on all cylinders with “Masters of the Universe”. They absolutely nail the character models and aesthetics of the He-Man universe. The property has always been known for its over-the-top cyber-viking like designs. Powerhouse has managed to retain the tradition while updating it with richer details to environments and character expressions. If any of you are wondering, the answer is yes. There is more blood and gore in “Masters of the Universe”. Nothing too gratuitous but enough to lend action scenes a little more heft to them.
Rejoice He-Man fans! The series is back in all of its nerdy childhood glory. For newcomers, though, there’s not much for you to get excited about this season. Perhaps there will be, with the epic struggle promised in future seasons. We had higher hopes for “Masters of the Universe” to go above and beyond Castle Grayskull. Instead, it retreats under its safety net like Cringer. As long as Wood and Hamill are reprising their roles, we’ll still continue to give it a watch.
So what did you think of “Masters of the Universe”? Did it hit you in the nostalgic feels or just fill you with second-hand embarrassment? Let us know in the comments!
Netflix's "Masters of the Universe" Review
Rejoice He-Man fans! The series is back in all of its nerdy childhood glory. For newcomers, though, there’s not much for you to get excited about this season. Perhaps there will be, with the epic struggle promised in future seasons. We had higher hopes for “Masters of the Universe” to go above and beyond Castle Grayskull. Instead, it retreats under its safety net like Cringer.
- Netflix's "Masters of the Universe" Review 0%