The New Zealand Herald
He-Man masters the universe of 80s kids
Despite religiously watching the animated He-Man series when I was a kid, and owning a handful of the associated toys, I really don’t remember too much about it. I’m not sure if this is because the 1980s were a distressingly long time ago and most of my childhood memories are now as hazy as a boutique craft beer or because the show itself wasn’t particularly memorable.
The answer’s most likely a mix of both.
The show was cheesy, good fun and one that I can tell you does not stand up today. While the character design has become iconic, the animation itself is fairly poor and the storylines are incredibly simplistic with no arcs whatsoever.
This is because He-Man and the Masters of the Universe existed solely to sell toys to kids. Toy manufacturing company Mattel enlisted animation studio Filmation to quickly and cheaply pump out a show around its new range of action figures and that’s what they did. Quality control was not a primary concern.
But it’s target audience - kids like me - didn’t care that we were the ones getting played. We just wanted to watch HeMan and co save the day and then recreate those adventures with the toys and our friends.
Even now, knowing that HeMan and the Masters of the Universe was nothing more than a glorified ad, the nostalgia towards it still hits hard. As a kid, the franchise simply filled my universe.
This is why I’d been looking forward to Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Netflix’s new series based on the dusty old franchise. Even though I really should’ve known better.
But it’s people like me that showrunner Kevin Smith developed
this new show for. By “like me” I mean oldies. Kids that watched it way back when and are now — supposedly — all grown up.
He’s treated the schlocky source material with gravitas and reverence that you wouldn’t expect for a franchise filled with characters with names like Stinkor or Fisto and whose whole raison d’etre was merely to shift product. Cleverly he’s aged the show to align with its original audience.
The characters all act how you expect them to act and look how you remember them looking, there’s no reimagining or redesigning going on here thank goodness, only now the threats facing our heroes have matured. Stakes actually exist. Trauma is a real thing. And death — violent and final — constantly stalks.
You’ll have to take my word for it when I say that at least two of the first five episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation pack an emotional punch. Which is something you could never say about the 80s original.
That it does all this while staying true to the original characters’ traits and personalities is wildly impressive. The floating sorcerer Orko is still a bungling fool, Man-At
Arms still has a habit of swooping in to save the day when all looks lost and Evil-Lyn is, well, still evil. They’re the same, yet different. Better is the word I’m looking for here.
That descriptor extends to every aspect of the series. Filmation was renowned for its cheap production tricks, like constantly using the same cycles of He-Man punching or running, whereas the anime style animation here is frequently awesome in both scope and execution. Smith also assembled a crack voice cast, having Mark Hamill cackle his way through Skeletor’s lines and enlisting Lena Heady — yes, Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister herself — to give Evil-Lyn the appropriate menace.
The show is a direct sequel to the 80s original and kicks off in that spirit with He-Man battling Skeletor in a typically mighty battle. But 20 minutes later Smith flips the script to veer off in strange new directions the original would never dare.
This includes — but is not limited to — an unholy alliance previously only seen on school playgrounds when someone wanted to have their Beast Man toy be a goodie for a change, the villain Cyclops becoming the leader of a technology cult and, perhaps the biggest twist of all, his decision to put an early series spotlight on Teela, a secondary character in both the original animation and kids toy desirability lists.
Whoever at Netflix decided to cut the season in half and keep five episodes back to drop at an undisclosed date, is more villainous than Skeletor. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Put simply, the show again has the power. Masters of the Universe: Revelation is far better than you thought it could be and truckloads better than it has any right to be. No doubt the toy factories are working and have begun pumping out the product.