This has been on my “Watch Later” list on Netflix for a while now and I’ve finally got round to watching it, being careful to avoid any over-the-top nastiness to do with the pushing of female characters along the way. I was a bit too young for He-Man growing up, Teenage Mutant Ninja (or Hero…) Turtles, Real Ghostbusters and G.I. Joe (or Action Force…) were more my generation’s thing, but my brother, who is four years older than me, was into it and had plenty of toys that I played with, so through that and just pop culture in general I was somewhat familiar with the basic premise of the show, but not being a fan may well have helped shield me from a lot of the criticism the show has faced. Let’s take a look either way!
Skeletor’s final assault on Castle Grayskull caused his own demise, while also putting an end to He-Man and simultaneously damaging the source of all magic in existence. After their battle fractured Eternia, it’s up to Teela to solve the mystery of the missing Sword of Power in a race against time to prevent the end of the Universe. Her journey will uncover the secrets of Grayskull at last.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Teela wonders if she has the power within herself to save her friends and land. Spoiler: She does!
First off, and this is becoming a regular thing with these Netflix animated series, the animation is great. Big bold colours, fluid movement, great character designs that seem to lean into the toys rather than the old cartoon in terms of body shape, it’s great stuff.
The next and most important thing in… well, anything is the story itself! It kicks off with a big titular revelation that Castle Grayskull is actually the Hall of Wisdom, the magical lynchpin of the entire universe’s magic and that it can give someone a look at the universe as a whole. This is shown when Skeletor (voiced by Mark Hamill, who frequently falls into his iconic Joker voice!) finally takes over the castle and goes down to its hidden chamber. He battles He-Man there to a draw, with them both seemingly killing each other in a “The Transformers: The Movie” style sudden upping of the violence and introducing the concept of death to an otherwise simple kids show. During the deadly duel Grayskull’s power vanishes along with the Sword of Power itself. All this and Teela finds out that He-Man was Prince Adam all along and that her father, Man-at-Arms, knew this whole time, something that drives her away from the court of Eternia entirely.
We them flash-forward to a near post-apocalyptic and now magic-less Eternia where Teela and her new friend Andra are working as mercenaries and come across the former Evil-Lyn, who requests help with restoring the Sword of Power in order to save not just Eternia but the universe itself. With the guidance of Grayskull Sorceress the unlikely trio must go on a journey to Preternia (Heaven) and Subternia (Hell) to collect the two halves of the Sword and use Man-at-Arms’ forging abilities. With the help of Roboto, a weakened Orko (due to the whole no magic thing) and Evil-Lyn’s old ally Beast Man, they manage to run through Subternia and escape the amazingly named Scare Glow (I assume his toy glowed in the dark…) though seemingly at the cost of Orko’s life after he and Evil-Lyn bonded over their feeling of being destined to do something they weren’t sure they could, or should do.
They then reach Preternia, where they find Prince Adam among several other prior wielders of the Sword of Power (including King Grayskull himself!), all of whom chose to remain in the He-Man state in the after-life apart from our former lead, who’s just too damn nice. They manage to find the other half of the sword and Roboto sacrifices his robo-life to reforge it, plus Prince Adam decides to follow his friends back to the world of Eternia despite being warned that if he does he won’t be able to manifest back in Preternia once he dies again. It all seems to be going so well until Skeletor emerges out of Evil-Lyn’s staff, seemingly kills Adam again and wields the Sword of Power, calling down its magical energy and becoming a Skeletor-Man, I guess? Skele-Man? … Either way, that was your half-way point cliffhanger (though I watched both parts within a few days of each other, rather than the few months other people had…)
All out war in Eternia!
Part 2 kicks off with Skeletor giving a reluctant Evil-Lyn the Grayskull sorcerer powers and then hunting down Teela, Andra and Adam, the latter of whom is healed by former, who had no idea she had such ability. Adam tries to call the Power of Grayskull to himself without the Sword of Power and turns into an Incredible Hulk-like mindless muscle beast that at least buys everyone some time to escape and reassess. Speaking of reassessing, Evil-Lyn decides she had enough of Skeletor and tricks him into returning the power of Sword and then takes it all for herself, becoming a God-like being that is soon horrified at the bleakness of the Universe and the fact there is no God so decides destroying everything would be a good idea (and starts by somehow destroying Preternia… so wiping out Heaven, essentially!), leading to an unholy alliance of Skeletor and Prince Adam to lead an army of Eternia gathered by Teela having yet another power she didn’t know she had to contact everyone. Turns out that Teela is the daughter of Man-at-Arms and the Grayskull Sorceress, and therefore its her destiny to take over that position.
During the final showdown the restored He-Man and Skele-Man fight Evil-Lyn while Teela accepts her power but refuses to become the Sorceress and cut her bonds with her friends (aww…) while the rest of Eternia battles Scare Glow and his Subternia army, an event that sees the restoration of Orko to full power and full self-confidence. Skeletor betrays He-Man and is then swiftly defeated by his old foe once again while Teela takes out Evil-Lyn by showing her the true creation of the Universe and its beauty… or something. It is a satisfying ending in a big sweeping epic battle sense, if nothing else! Prince Adam and Teela agree to continue the good fight together as the show ends. Throughout the show there are plenty of cameos from old cast members from the original cartoon, all of whom retain their original names, yes including “Fisto” who does indeed wish to “Fist somebody”, just to get that meme in there… Erm, so I’m sure if you’re a big fan of the original you’ll get even more out of the show than I did.
Who needs a Sword of Power when you have a weird cape of… magic, I guess?
I will address the elephant in the room: yes, a series that is set up as a sequel to He-Man recasts Teela as the central protagonist and reduces Prince Adam / He-Man’s role dramatically. Honestly though it didn’t bother me much, there were one or two cringey “bad-ass” moments where she’d walk towards the camera striking a “look how cool I am” pose and stuff like that, but otherwise it still told a fun story. I will say though that they went a bit too far when they built up the new all-powerful Skeletor and then had him lose his power to Evil-Lyn because she pretended to romance him of all things. “Woman uses her sexuality and the dumb man’s sudden lust in order to get what she wants” seemed like one female empowerment message too far, personally. Either way I didn’t mind He-Man taking a bit of a backseat but also kicking Skeletor down the pecking order made me wonder why they even used the license in the first place, really.
A few times the tonal shifts didn’t really work and a few early episodes were a bit flat (over half an episode dedicated to taking down an admittedly amusing Cult that was worshiping technology instead of magic was tedious once the gag started to wear off, but half a half-an-hour episode isn’t much in the grand scheme of things!) and it ends on a cliffhanger where Skeletor is taken over by the “Mother Board”, or deity of the aforementioned Cult which was a bit ambitious given they had no idea if the series would be a success or not… When will show runners learn, eh?
He-Man and Skeletor face off with modern animation and a more serious tone: a.k.a. what most people wanted from the series in the first place!
Masters of the Universe: Revelation was a fun 10-episode series with a grand scope and great animation, and while some plot choices did make me wonder why they bothered with the He-Man license in the first place, it didn’t detract from the overall experience too much. It’s in a weird limbo where fans of the original will get more of a kick out of the cameos than I did but might also take greater exception to the story changes, so if you grew up on He-Man let me know what you thought!