He-Man returns to Eternia

“By the power of Grayskull… I have the power!”

This memorable line was first spoken by the main protagonist, He-Man, as an introduction or whenever there was a distress call in the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series made in the 80s.
Around the same time that Sony and Mattel were still planning to make a movie, it was announced at Power-Con, a fan-run convention in Los Angeles, that both Kevin Smith (best-known for the critically-acclaimed comedy Clerks) and streaming giant, Netflix were developing a new animated He-Man series titled, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, as a follow-up to the original that ran from 1983 to1985.

Produced and animated by Filmation Animation Studios (The Archie Show; Star Trek: The Animated Series; Groovy-Ghoulies; Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids; Sport Billy, etc), the original series was based on Mattel Inc’s ‘Masters of the Universe’ toy brand. The 80s series later had a spin-off, She-Ra and the Princess of Power (1985).

On June 10th, 2021, a teaser trailer dropped for Smith’s sequel to the series, followed three weeks later by an extended trailer showcasing scenes backed by “Holding out for a Hero”, an 80s song performed by music icon Bonnie Tyler; it was the right song for both trailers. The new series made its debut on Netflix on July 23rd. I have to admit that the five episodes in this season of the new animated series left me feeling nostalgic, having been familiar with the 80s original, the 1987 live action movie (starring Dolph Lundgren and Courteney Cox), and the 2002 animated series.
In the 2021 series, the story opens with two beast-like henchmen being led by a strong man (kind of a bounty hunter) into Castle Grayskull, where a sorceress – the guardian of the place – is in attendance.  Thereafter, the agents of darkness led by Skeletor – with Evil-Lyn by his side- are revealed as they plan to take over the Castle. In another scene, a banquet is being held for Teela, in company of her friend, Prince Adam and his parents (King Randor and Queen Marlena), Man-at-Arms, Cringer (the Tiger) and Orko(the floating sorcerer).

At the same ceremony where Teela is about to be knighted, Adam receives a vision from the Sorceress that Grayskull is under attack and his help is needed. As Adam informs Duncan (a.k.a. Man-At-Arms) of his vision, his discomfort is obvious to Teela.  She soon finds out about Skeletor’s planned invasion and joins in the fight to save Grayskull. Duncan shares the news with the other guests and everyone departs, leaving Adam in charge of Castle Eternia. It heralds his transformation to He-Man, and his pet tiger’s (Cringer) to Battle Cat.
Both will try to save Castle Grayskull from the enemy’s rule, and this is where the battle starts.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: REVELATION. Chris Wood is He-Man in Episode 1, Season 1. © NETFLIX; 2021.

First of all, why is the new series sub-titled Revelation? Possibly because a lot of things that are not mentioned in the original are revealed in this sequel including back-stories on main characters, which we might probably have never heard of or resolved. I suggest watching the old series before watching this new instalment.  The battle between good and evil is not yet over and there are still lessons – even if left unsaid – to be learnt from the cartoon which deals with lust for power, life after death, multiple emotions, decisions et c.   

The Netflix series features a bit of violence in almost every scene yet it’s not too gory as the original series did not tolerate that: by the way, this sequel is rated PG 13.  Apart from the violence, there are emotional scenes depicting the love-hate relationship between the heroes and villains; the death of a loved one, or similar instances of pain and gain.  Expect a lot of surprises.
Some episodes begin with a flashback before a return to the present day. Certain scenes remind the viewer of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars movies, as well as episodes of numerous popular television shows.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation deploys a lot of amazing visual effects which I would describe as colourful and vibrant. They are distinctive, like the ones from the Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. The series’ animation is smooth and clear. The animation team from United States-based Powerhouse Animation (Castlevania), and Vietnam, did a very good job combining both traditional and CGI animations to craft each scene and scenic background.
Revelation’s outstanding voice cast* features talent from old and recent television shows and movies that are equally classics in their own right. The actors give their best, bringing plausibility to their emotions in each scene.

Chris Wood and Sarah Michelle Gellar are fantastic as He-Man and Teela respectively. Lena Headey (best known for her villainous role in Game of Thrones) is perfect in her performance as Evil-Lyn; fellow GOT alum Liam Cunningham’s voice as Duncan (Man-At-Arms) is like listening to a father figure or a leader. Mark Hamill, not wanting to sound like Alan Oppenheimer’s Skeletor, uses his Joker voice to depict the series’ villain. I was annoyed that I did not hear the archvillain’s famous, scary laughter in this series.
I however enjoyed the humourous banter involving some of the characters, the fight sequences, as well as the musical score (used in the introduction, the fight scenes and the end credits).  The writers employ simple yet crazy ideas to drive their well-plotted narratives and do a good job of not boring the audience. There is no dull moment, even though I had hoped to see each episode end with a ‘moral of the story’ as they had in the Filmation series.

Smith must have thought to himself that it would not matter if the fans loved this series or not. He effectively introduces it to a modern audience who are perhaps new to this hero who is neither DC nor Marvel.
In the absence of a moral to the story, let’s end with a nostalgic reference from a conversation between Teela and Adam in which the former asks, “Do you still know the tune?” and the latter replies, “There are some things you can never forget”.
Hear, hear.

– Opeyemi Ajao

Masters of the Universe: Revelation is available to stream on Netflix.

*Voice Cast:
Teela: Sarah Michelle Gellar (Scooby-Doo, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Sorceress: Susan Eisenberg (Justice League cartoon series)
King Randor: Diedrich Bader (Ben 10, Two and a Half Men)
Duncan/Man-At-Arms: Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones)
Queen Marlena: Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, Batman and Robin)
Evil-Lyn: Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, 300)
Skeletor: Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series)
Andra: Tiffany Smith
Cringer: Stephen Root
Orko: Griffin Newman
Moss Man: Alan Oppenheimer
Mer-Man: Kevin Conroy (Batman)
Beast-Man: Kevin Michael Richardson (The Simpsons, Green Lantern)

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