“Masters of the Universe: Revolution” Recap

January 29, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

Time for another journey back to Eternia, as Netflix brings back Kevin Smith’s animated adaptation of the “Masters of the Universe” franchise for another spin with “Revolution.” This five-episode mini-season now available on Netflix picks up on the major plot threads from 2021’s “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” but with what felt like –at least to me — a conscious effort to refocus the action in response to the previous 10-episode season, which was critically well regarded but extremely polarizing among the He-Man/MOtU fanbase. The result is a tightly packed run of episodes that will engage viewers new or returning, but which are especially satisfying for long-time fans of the franchise eager to see its concepts explored in new, modern, and mature approaches.

“Revolution” jumps right into the action, as He-Man and allies — among them Ram-Man, Rio Blast, Snout Spout, Buzz-Off, Orko, and newly minted Man-at-Arms Andra — launch an assault on Subternia to save the souls of Clamp Champ and Fisto, both of whom died in “Revelation.” (A lot of beloved characters died in “Revelation.”) After a fight with Scareglow, we get a full picture of the problem: following the cosmically powered Dark Lyn’s machinations in the previous season, Preternia — basically Eternia’s version of Valhalla, a heaven for the brave and the good — has been destroyed, which means the souls of the vaunted dead risk dissipating permanently. That’s an even bigger problem when King Randor, father of Prince Adam/He-Man, falls ill and dies.

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Determined to ensure Randor’s soul is saved, Teela — new mystically empowered as the new Sorceress of Grayskull, following the death of her mother, the previous Sorceress — attempts to recreate Preternia, but realizes she lacks the necessary power to do so. After a visit with original “Masters of the Universe” recurring character, ancient dragon Granamyr, Teela is informed that to successfully reform Preternia, she will need to master all the ancient magicks of Eternia. In addition to her mastery of the power of Zoar, she needs the snake magic of Ka and dark magic of Havoc. And who better to guide her on her quest than Evil-Lyn, now serving penance for her cosmic destruction by tending to Granamyr, who himself is dying after the sorcery cataclysm.

Meanwhile, Adam finds himself concerned about taking over the throne from his now-deceased father — and especially wary of giving up his adventuring life as He-Man — but is given an intriguing opportunity as a long-lost family member makes a surprise appearance at Randor’s funeral. That’s all I’ll say about that plotline. In Snake Mountain, Skeletor embraces his new role as Skeletek, now technologically enhanced via Motherboard, and leading the tech-based zombie army in her name. Except, Motherboard herself has a boss, one who is familiar to Skeletor, and longtime “Masters of the Universe” fans.

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That’s a cursory overview of just the premiere. The five episodes are as lean and mean as He-Man himself, hurtling through various plotlines and subplots with blazing speed. In truth, I felt the series could have comfortably done with at least one or two more episodes, as things move at an accelerated pace, especially when compared to “Revelation.” I’m curious if the short episode order was always the plan, or if they had to pivot after the fanboy complaints over the preceding series.

A recurring theme in “Revolution” explores the somewhat unique setting of Eternia itself, a technologically advanced medieval-style kingdom that is still heavily influenced by magic. That’s something that the original cartoon just kind of went with, but “Revolution” flirts with the tension between tech and magic in a way that I found intriguing. Smith and his writing team have pulled surprising depth out of settings and characters that were two-dimensional (literally and figuratively) in the original 1980s cartoon, and they should be applauded for that.

That brings me to the biggest takeaway from “Revolution,” when compared to “Revelation”: the significant tonal shift to something closer to the original “Masters of the Universe” cartoon. First and foremost, He-Man is not dead for most of this season. He’s a central character, as either Adam or He-Man, and he is deployed well. One of the big challenges of creating with a seriously overpowered character like He-Man is that he logically renders almost everyone and everything else moot. Like Superman in the Silver Age of comics, He-Man could do just about anything in the 1980s cartoon. (Except, hilariously, use his sword to fight his enemies, which was forbidden for fear of inciting childhood violence.) So for there to be a feeling of actual danger, writers have to get creative, or take him off the board completely. They tried the latter in “Revelation.” Here, they go for the former, and I suspect a lot of longtime fans are relieved.

The other main complaint I saw about “Revelation” — and to be clear, I very much liked it; in fact, you can check out our video recaps of the season at the end of this blog — was the overwhelming focus on Teela, how overbearing the character became, and similarly, how the women characters pulled focus for much of that run. I reject the second part of that argument outright. I welcomed the exploration of Teela and Evil-Lyn in “Revelation,” and I worried that more He-Man/Adam might mean less of them. I do think their plotline was the secondary one in “Revolution,” but it was still critical to the proceedings, and we continued to get significant character growth for both of them. I was also glad to see Andra, the new Man-at-Arms, get more to do this time around, and the OG Man-at-Arms gets an interesting new direction as well.

It’s worth noting that the voice cast has some significant changes from “Revelation.” First and foremost, Sarah Michelle Gellar is no longer voicing Teela, replaced by Melissa Benoist. If you have to replace Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can’t do much better than Supergirl. But I would be lying if I didn’t say the swap was noticeable, and Benoist’s Teela lacks the intensity and presence that Gellar brought to the voice. Alicia Silverstone is also out as Queen Marlena, replaced by Gates McFadden, AKA Dr. Beverly Crusher from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Marlena remains a fairly minor role, but again, there’s a distinctly different energy this time around. New additions to the voice cast include John De Lancie (Q from “TNG”) as Granamyr and Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn from the live-action movie!) as Motherboard. William Shatner is terrific in a mystery role I won’t reveal, and Keith David was marked present voicing a fan-favorite villain that, personally, I felt was a letdown across the board. For a show that has done so well by so many characters, I found that particular interpretation to be lacking in imagination and style.

That said, you can make a case that the bad guys have always been the most interesting part of “Masters of the Universe,” and Skeletor and Evil-Lyn remain the lynchpins of Smith’s take on the property. “Revolution” gives Skeletor a terrific journey that taps into the character’s roots from various iterations of “MOtU,” and Mark Hamill remains absolutely essential to the show in his voicing. But I would argue that Evil-Lyn is actually the core character to this entire reboot. Smith and his crew have done exceptional work with Lyn and I’m excited to see where they take her from here. Lena Headey is SO GOOD in this role. I hope she’s having as much voicing her as I have watching.

There’s some great fan service here across the board, especially for people who fell in love with the property via the 80s toy line. In the He-Man arc, we get the canon introduction of Battle Armor He-Man (and to an extent Skeletor!) as well as the figure’s accompanying axe. We get the introduction of Gwildor from the much-aligned live-action film from the 1980s, and pairing him with Orko as the science counterpart to his magic served to balance both characters nicely. In the Teela/Lyn arc, in addition to Granamyr, Teela’s Ka magic arc saw her don a version of her snake-themed action-figure look, and the magic disciplines themselves take their inspiration directly from the Eternia Playset. (And did I misunderstand, or did Granamyr allude to a fourth tower/magic discipline?) I kept waiting for King Hiss and the Snake Men to show up after the Ka magic entered the picture, but maybe next season. Meanwhile, one of the bad guys interacts — and by “interacts” I mean “brutally murders” — with stone alien Stonedar. Keep giving me these kinds of Easter eggs all day, Kevin Smith. I absolutely love them.

“Revolution” ends with a surprising shift in the status quo for multiple characters, and a cliffhanger ending that should again feel familiar to fans of the original “He-Man” cartoon. I am hopeful that the fandom is more accepting of “Revolution,” and that Smith and his team are given the full go ahead to continue with their story. I absolutely want to see where they’re taking this. The set up is familiar, but already there are interesting-enough changes that I’m itching to see what else they do.

I personally have enjoyed both “Revelation” and especially “Revolution,” and I say that as someone who was quite literally a card-carrying member of the WSTM-TV Scooby-Doo/He-Man Fan Club in the early 1980s. Smith and his team clearly love this source material and are doing absolutely marvelous things with it. Yes, it is through a modern lens. But the level of deference to the characters and the property in general could not be more apparent.

Speaking of deference to the source material, here’s our From Here to Eternia videos produced regarding “Masters of the Universe: Revelation.” We stopped doing video projects after pandemic lockdown ended, so sadly we won’t be producing any for “Revolution.”

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Ram-Man
Ram-Man
11 days ago

The reason Revolution only got 5 episodes is because not enough people who watch Revelation part 1 came back for part 2 for them to justify giving this season 10 episodes