With Masters of the Universe: Revelation, showrunner Kevin Smith, directors Adam Connaroe and Patrick Stannard, and fellow writers Marc Bernardin, Tim Sheridan, Diya Mishra, and Eric Carrasco reintroduce viewers to the land of Eternia. Skeletor is up to his old tricks again, scheming to steal the secrets of the universe from Castle Grayskull. If that all sounds like business as usual, then you might want to strap in. By the end of the first installment, everything will have changed.
The opening of the series pulls an incredible trick by kicking off things with an unabashed attempt at capturing the glorious 80s cheese that was the original Filmation series. Sure, the animation is leaps and bounds beyond what the original cartoon could have ever hoped for, but the first 2/3 of this episode is full of silly plotting from Skeletor, lots of soap opera drama between Adam and his family, and more quips than you could shake a Havoc Staff at. Skeletor’s first appearance even generates one of the biggest laughs of Part 1, reminding viewers of just what a bumbling oaf the wannabe conqueror was back in the day.
The show then takes a sharp left turn, which I won’t spoil here. There is a specific moment in which Skeletor fully displays how wicked he truly is, and it is brilliantly played as a real moment of no return. In 80s cartoons like the original MOTU and G.I. Joe, there are typically no real consequences. The villains are forced into a retreat, some guys escape on parachutes, and everyone regroups to do it all again the next week.
Not in Masters of the Universe: Revelation. The ending of this episode left me as awestruck and giddily confused as I was when Thanos was decapitated during the first act of Avengers: Endgame. There’s something deliriously exciting about tuning into a relaunch of a show you know very well and still wondering by the end of the first episode, “Wait, so what is this series?”
This dramatic reinvention jumps forward in time for the second episode, “The Poisoned Chalice,” which catches us up with Teela, now a mercenary, alongside her partner Andra. While this episode really leans into the action-adventure aspect, the shadow of the premiere hangs over it, just as those events continue to haunt Teela. And as we soon see, the world wasn’t quite as saved as our heroes thought it was, which is why Teela has to get her old friends back together for one more adventure.
For a series that has occasionally relied on a few magical deus ex machina, it’s intriguing to watch our heroes having to outthink and outmaneuver the villains most of the time. This lends itself to some thrilling action sequences. The fights are well-choreographed and the animation is gorgeously fluid, particularly any time we get to see Man-At-Arms and Teela throwing down with a crowd of villains. The series’ score by Bear McCreary, full of triumphant choirs and just the right amount of 80s pomp, ratchets the excitement up to 11.
Some viewers may be surprised by just how brutal these battles can get. The second episode in particular features some unexpected body horror, courtesy of a group of tech-worshipping cultists led by Tri-Klops. Teela and Andra have no qualms with putting their enemies down for good, even as Teela recalls the lessons she’s learned over the years that would seem to hint at a different way.
The flashbacks interspersed throughout the series are a clever touch, giving longtime fans a taste of classic He-Man action and adventure. Not only does each sequence tie in thematically with the plot of the episode, but we also get some more groanworthy (and wonderful) one-liners from He-Man, Skeletor, and the rest. It’s just enough to remind you of the show’s roots, even as it continues to forge an exciting new path forward.
Granted, not all of the humor works completely. Much like the violence, which occasionally veers more in the PG-13 realm, there are a few jokes here and there that I thought maybe were a bit out of place in a show that carries a PG rating. There were also a few scenes that felt slightly over-burdened with exposition.
Even so, I found myself laughing frequently throughout the series, as well as marveling at the number of references to the series history. I could scarce believe that I was seeing images from the old mini-comics, or catching lines of dialogue and bits of business from Cannon’s infamous live-action adaptation (which, yes, I love).
And of course, we can’t talk about how well this series pulls off its humor and emotional moments without mentioning its all-star cast. Of course Mark Hamill positively crushes as Skeletor, giving him a campy vibe that feels like it’s just barely containing all of the ugliness in the universe. (It’s also really fun to watch Hamill’s Skeletor share a scene with Kevin Conroy’s Merman.) However, the show also brings in a number of performers who aren’t particularly known for their voice acting.
As Teela, Sarah Michelle Gellar nails the headstrong nature of the character. She sounds like the kind of person people would be taking orders from, but she handles the more vulnerable moments beautifully. Stephen Root’s Cringer is every bit the big scaredy cat he’s meant to be, but he’s also capable of delivering a tender monologue that will leave you speechless.
Liam Cunningham brings a regality to Man-At-Arms, while Lena Headey’s Evil-Lyn becomes the first take on the character that feels like a fully-fledged human being. Justin Long as Roboto is fun, light, and surprisingly emotionally affecting.
However, the real star of Masters of the Universe: Revelation here is easily Griffin Newman as Orko. Now, Orko was always my favorite as a kid. He’s the perpetual underdog who just wishes the best for his loved ones and often finds himself just bumbling from one adventure to the next. Through it all, Orko has maintained a strong belief in right and wrong, and would gladly put himself in the line of fire for his friends, even if he didn’t have a plan. With his squeaky voice and heart of gold, Orko is so much more than the Scrappy of the show — he is its soul.
The writers of this series and Griffin Newman imbue the character with all of that, but take it to an even deeper place. What would someone be like if their whole schtick was clumsiness and failure, even if they had the best intentions? Well, if they had Orko’s heart, they’d still be putting every little bit of themselves into making the world a better place for the people they love.
Newman’s Orko is gentle, silly, and incredibly moving. There’s an earnestness to this iteration of the character that I absolutely didn’t expect, and the results are unforgettable. It’s through Orko that the show goes a long way towards selling one of its central themes: creating your own fate and being the master of your own destiny.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation leaves our heroes in a precarious place and sets up a new status quo that should be exciting to explore when the series returns. After this first batch of episodes, I’m all in.
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