Masters of the Universe Revolution is a Heartfelt He-Man Sequel

In the second episode of Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation, “The Poisoned Chalice,” Teela and Andra are tasked with breaking into Snake Mountain to steal an artifact. They learn that Tri-Klops and some of Skeletor’s other minions have formed a technological cult praising an entity known as “Motherboard.” This small part of the episode felt like a classic bit of MotU silliness, evoking technological sensibilities that would feel right at home in the 1980s. Yet, what seemed like an almost throwaway gag in a story about the power of magic has become the central, sinister threat in Masters of the Universe: Revolution.



He-Man, Skeletor, and the rest of these characters have the dubious distinction of being part of a storytelling universe that began as a line of toys and not the other way around. Mattel was originally in the running to produce the action figures based on Star Wars, but George Lucas ultimately chose Kenner instead. Scrambling to find a replacement product line, artist Mark Taylor and designer Robert Sweet developed a line of barbarian-inspired characters set in a fantasy world that combined magic and technology. It’s not a universe known for serious, emotional storytelling, but Masters of the Universe: Revolution has the power to change that. The series maintains the whimsical nature of these characters while allowing them to evolve, change, and grow.

A hallmark of the Filmation-produced animated series that Revolution seems most inspired by is how nothing ever really changed. There were loose elements of continuity, like Teela’s mother being the Sorceress of Grayskull. However, Revolution picks up right where Revelation left off after upending the status quo of these stories. He-Man’s identity as Prince Adam is no longer a secret. Teela has ascended to her birthright as the Sorceress of Grayskull. Meanwhile, after being subsumed by Motherboard, Skeletor has become an even more powerful and threatening villain. All the while, Hordak and his evil Horde are pulling the strings in the name of conquering Eternia. It’s as thrilling a set-up as any He-Man fan could expect.

The initial wave of popularity for these characters died down after the 1987 live-action film starring Dolph Lundgren as the most powerful man in the universe. However, Masters of the Universe: Revolution feels like the movie fans waited 40 years to see. That these first five episodes are animated is a bonus because the characters look like the action figures generations of children used to craft their own epic adventures on living room and bedroom floors across the globe. Pitting the heroes of Eternia against these technologically enhanced villains elevates the stakes and the themes that began in the first chapter of this sequel story.

Masters of the Universe: Revolution isn’t just an action-adventure animated series where muscle-bound heroes fight Skeletor and the bumbling boobs he’s cursed to command. Showrunner Kevin Smith, the writers, producers, actors, and artists combine their talents to imbue these characters with genuine emotion and pathos. While Revolution is suitable for all ages, the story is more mature than fans of He-Man and Skeletor may be used to. As revealed in the official trailer, He-Man’s father, King Randor, passes away. Prince Adam is forced to weigh the choice of continuing to be Eternia’s champion or setting the sword aside for the scepter as its ruler.

MotU: Revolution tells a story about legacy, adding a generational element to this fantastical saga. Family has always been a big part of the Masters of the Universe story, but it always came with secrets and, in some cases, lies. The characters are now able to be fully honest and open with each other. This means along with their evolution, their relationships grow and change in mature ways. Relationships that stagnated over decades and various iterations are able to progress in ways audiences knew they would, even as children. Some relationships change for the better while others change for the worse (though in ways fans will appreciate). What makes the Masters of the Universe characters so impressive is how they persist despite this lack of progression. Not anymore.

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Audiences can easily follow the story without having watched MotU: Revelation or the original series, but fans steeped in lore will definitely be rewarded. It goes beyond things like Motherboard’s voice being Meg Foster, Evil-Lyn from the 1987 film — though, that’s not nearly the only reference to the movie in the story. In the MotU multiverse, Revolution seems to encompass bits and pieces of each iteration. The storytellers find natural ways to incorporate the “toyetic” elements of this universe, too. Recognizable items like He-Man’s “Battle Armor” (which can repair damage) or Skeletor’s “Terror Claws” are present in the story in organic ways. Every new element serves the story and adds depth to the universe. It doesn’t feel like Mattel is just trying to push new figurines through the narrative. (Even though they will almost certainly be available.)

What makes Masters of the Universe: Revolution so rewarding to longtime fans is that it embraces nostalgia unapologetically. Even characters who were patently ridiculous, like Snout Spout — a human with a robotic elephant head that shoots water through his trunk, are taken seriously. These Easter eggs are great for adult fans who remember playing with whatever version of these toys helped spark their imaginations. As the characters evolve and grow, they do not lose their fundamental essence. Fans who may be very strict about their interpretations might find something to gripe about. Adult 1980s kids always do when a franchise gives them a new installment of the storytelling universe.

Yet, even the most cynical fan would be hard-pressed to deny their inner child has waited to see these characters like this forever. One reason the live-action film fell flat with fans and new audiences was its tone. In trying to take these characters seriously, the filmmakers abandoned the sense of fun that makes these characters work. MotU: Revolution is, at all times, fun. While Masters of the Universe: Revolution is the best version of these characters yet, there are some very heavy emotional moments. People who’ve waited decades to see Orko again don’t want to see him sad, even if it’s rewardingly heartbreaking.

The series is filled with emotion, and viewers might find themselves crying over a character they didn’t even know they cared about. Yet, if Revelation was the meat and vegetables in this narrative meal, Revolution is just desserts. When the five episodes are through, audiences will have enjoyed a complete story and will be eager for the next course. The only problem with embracing all aspects of this universe’s past is that all fans don’t like all the iterations. The return of the film character Gwildor, for example, is joyous for those who enjoyed Billy Barty’s character. Yet, if audiences didn’t like the movie or Gwildor, they probably won’t suddenly find themselves charmed by him.

The newly returned legacy characters are very faithful to the past. Though, in all honesty, Hordak actor Keith David could’ve worked a few more snorts into his dialogue. Where Masters of the Universe: Revolution succeeds most of all is in making Hordak and Skeletor truly menacing. Targeting toy-age children with these stories always meant the villains came across as more silly than deadly. This is not the case in this series. All the familiar elements of a good He-Man story are there: magic, technology, a battle for the planet, and, of course, He-Man himself.

While the hero appeared in all but a single episode of Revelation, some fans felt a bit cheated by how little he appeared in the show. In Revolution, Adam is He-Man more than he’s his scrawnier self. Yet, just as the previous series proved, Adam doesn’t need the Sword of Power or his bulked-up form to be a hero. Everything that makes the people of Eternia (and those here on regular-old Earth) love the character is present in every version. The animators, writers, and composers all turned in their best work. Masters of the Universe: Revolution is the show every He-Man fan has been waiting for all their lives.

Masters of the Universe: Revolution releases on Netflix on Jan. 25.

Masters of the Universe Revolution

Masters of the Universe: Revolution

Teela joins forces with He-Man and the other Masters in their quest to save Eternia from the grip of darkness.

Release Date
January 25, 2024

Seasons
1 Season

Production Company
Mattel Television, Mattel

Number of Episodes
5 Episodes

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