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Kevin Smith's risky and ambitious Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a worthy He-Man sequel

  • "Reboots and remakes happen almost as a given these days. Masters of the Universe: Revelation is none of those things, mercifully enough," says Kimberly Ricci of the Netflix animated series. "However, there’s certainly something to be said about having the guts to sequelize a series nearly three decades after the original aired, when one knows that the fandom is so intense that some people will be unhappy no matter how one handles the project. It sounds stressful, honestly! And this Netflix sequel is that kind of (as silly as this sounds, given all the things in this world there are to get worked up about) hot-button project. Obviously, the show follows up on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which originally aired back in 1983. Even if you don’t remember all the particulars of the show (which spun off the She-Ra: Princess of Power series), you know enough to likely have some residual feelings (and fear of a wrecked childhood) if you clicked on this review." Ricci adds: "Smith and his writers (Marc Bernardin, Tim Sheridan, Diya Mishra, and Eric Carrasco) climbed inside of this story and, clearly, did so with a lot of love for the original show. They realized what parts of the original show worked well, and what needed to happen to pave the way for even better stories. They justified the very existence of this sequel by keeping the original spirit alive and packing the show so full of heartfelt emotion that a few nerd heads might implode. People don’t like change, but I will say that what change transpires here might seem radical. Yet it’s not out of left field. It’s all consistent with the nature of these characters and what they would have done, had the original show revolved around a higher jackpot of consequences."

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    • Masters of the Universe: Revelation is pretty damn good: "The new series is much more in line with the streaming era — the first five episodes of Revelation’s first season tell a continuous story, fit for watching over a single afternoon," says Siddhant Adlakha. "(Part 2 of the series, consisting of the next five episodes, will release at a later date.) The show is surprising as a decades-later IP revival, leaning on childhood nostalgia to a far lesser degree than the concept and visuals suggest. Also, it’s pretty damn good." Adlakha adds: "Practically every character in He-Man is a broad cutout with a toy-friendly name and a colorful design. Every episode ends with a morality PSA, to make it slightly more palatable to parents that the show was mostly designed to sell action figures. Revelation has a toy line too, but the major difference is that even though the new show is also aimed at children, Kevin Smith’s sequel series cares deeply about its characters, and puts them through the wringer. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, one that adds a significant amount of retroactive meaning to the original show’s flimsy dynamics."
    • Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a He-Man fan's dream: "If you’re not a He-Man fan, I have no idea what you’ll think of Masters of the Universe: Revelation," says Rob Bricken. "I don’t know what you’ll get out of it, or if you’d get anything at all. The show has been touted as a sequel to the classic cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which means there’s very little on-ramp for new viewers to get into the franchise. Admittedly, it’s not a difficult premise to wrap your head around because Revelation is extremely devoted to the original series—which was made for kids. In fact, the first episode feels like it could be from the ‘80s series, just with infinitely better art, animation, and music. This is also what’s so remarkable about Revelation. Smith has made an updated version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for adult fans that somehow still feels like it has the DNA of the campy, childish ‘80s cartoon in there. The floating blue wizard Orko (voiced by Griffin Newman) is still a nitwit. Prince Adam’s cat Cringer (Stephen Root) is still a coward. Bad guys still miraculously jump out of vehicles just before they crash or explode. The 'adult' part of Revelation comes late in the first episode when Smith introduces something that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon never, even had: stakes."
    • Revelation rightly recognizes that, silliness aside, there's a deep bench of compelling personalities in the He-Man-verse that are worth exploring: "The five-episode release, which amounts to one half of this new story, is for all intents and purposes a continuation of the children's cartoon that aired its last episode in 1985," says Adam Rosenberg. "Revelations' first episode, in pace and in substance, actually feels like a product of that decade. It's a great ease-in for a story that quickly shifts gears, jumps ahead in time, and redefines our understanding of the fiction. I'm not sure there's a better geek for this assignment than Smith, who spent an entire scene in one of his early movies considering the gruesome carnal reality of Superman and Lois Lane trying to have a baby. He's good at spotting and digging into unseen angles, he's got subversive sensibilities, and — equally important for Revelation — he's not a dipshit gatekeeper about any of it. For any youthful missteps, Smith's brand of geekdom has always tilted toward being all-inclusive."
    • Revelation is a fantastic show in terms of sheer visuals: "The character designs look both nostalgic and detailed enough to be considered current," says Brian Tallerico. "I just miss animation that at least looks hand-drawn, numbed by years of dull character design in CGI kids shows that resemble boring video games. This one has visual artistry that amplifies writing that cuts deeper thematically than a lot of similar programs (or the original for that matter). The dumbest fans will complain that issues of empowerment and emotion are embedded here more than I remember in the ‘80s, but they can always go back to the originals."
    • Revelation is a rare, actual sequel series: "Unlike Netflix’s She-Ra reboot, Revelation functions as a direct continuation of the original 130-episode run," says Kevin Johnson. "This is at once fascinating, ambitious, and quixotic, as Revelation has to try to match the original show’s aesthetic and sensibility, update the narrative and visuals, comment on and/or clarify a lot of the original characterizations, provide old fans with plenty of references and Easter eggs, and re-establish the world of the show to brand new audiences. And it must do all of that in the five episodes that make up the first part of this 10-episode limited series from Kevin Smith."
    • Masters of the Universe: Revelation was review-bombed on Rotten Tomatoes: "A contingent of very vocal viewers claims that Kevin Smith lied when he said there was still plenty of He-Man on the show. That’s what he said to us (about a rumor), too," says Kimberly Ricci. "And uh, He-Man (along with Skeletor) does still get chunks of screentime in subsequent episodes. Sure, some of it is flashback stuff, so I do understand why people are upset about, you know, the death thing, but yeah. People were bound to be upset about this, even if this story is ultimately a lot more nuanced, well-written and full of character development than the original show. I liked the show (and appreciated that there were finally some real stakes for Eternia)! So did a lot of other people, but not everyone will love everything."
    • Sarah Michelle Gellar credits the sequel for taking women seriously after the original made them "afterthoughts"
    • Kevin Smith on why Gellar's Teela is at the center of Masters of the Universe: Revelation: "Teela, who was there in every episode, side-by-side with He-Man, and also there to protect (Prince Adam) was the one person left out of the secret,” Smith said during a Comic-Con panel. “Based on that, Teela was basically the center of the story that we were going to tell. It’s a He-Man story, it’s a Masters Of The Universe story, but it’s watching Teela’s journey.” 
    • Gellar hopes the sequel brings in new fans while keeping old ones: “(Revelation) is going to open it up to a world of people that don’t know the (original) cartoon,” she says. “I know, for example, my kids watched it last night and my kids didn’t know He-Man, which is so funny to me, because growing up you knew about He-Man whether you watched it or not. But this is a whole new generation of kids that will be excited to learn (about) and be a part of this world.”
    • Smith on destroying what we know about the Masters of the Universe: "It was more about let's just add stakes," he says. "That's the one thing the old cartoon never really had. You never thought for a second that Skeletor was ever going to kill He-Man. This was about, what happens if they crossed swords? And if somebody could lose a life, something that never would have happened on the old show. We got a body count on this show in the first part, and part 2 as well."

    TOPICS: Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Netflix, Kevin Smith




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