This is truly a family show that feels both real and aspirational.
For a line of toys, He-Man and company have done all right for themselves.
Born in the creative halls of Mattel in 1981 as sort of a post-Star Wars, “we can do action figures too” sort of statement, He-Man, Skeletor and the rest were originally designed to fill kids’ toyboxes, not their television sets. Sure, Mattel did push the characters to DC comics as early as 1982. But when Toys “R” Us reportedly complained that “5-year-olds don’t read,” the idea of TV specials—and then a full-blown series—was quickly conjured up. Masters of the Universe soon became the most popular kids’ show on television.
Now—40 years, several toy lines, two movies and six television series later—He-Man and the defenders of Castle Grayskull face perhaps their greatest adversary yet.
Director Kevin Smith.
For those unfamiliar with He-Man, Castle Grayskull and the planet Eternia, a very quick primer.
He-Man is the highly-muscled alter-ego of Prince Adam, heir to the throne of Eternia. (Some guys, apparently, have all the luck.) He was given the role of Eternia’s protector by the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull. As Castle Grayskull goes, so goes Eternia. And as Eternia goes, so goes the whole universe. Because of magic.
This explains why Skeletor, He-Man’s blue-cloaked, skull-faced, equally muscled adversary has lo these many years tried to take over Castle Grayskull, aided by his legions of ne’er-do-wells, including (but not limited to) the hairy Beast Man, the evil sorceress Evil-Lyn and the crab-nemesis Clawful.
But He-Man does not face this horrific horde alone. He too has allies, including (but not limited to) his mighty mount Battle Cat (the cowardly Cringer when not on duty), the helmet-wearing Man-At-Arms; his strong daughter Teela; and the goofy Orko.
Why all that history? Well, Kevin Smith, a director who jumped to fame with the foul-mouthed movie Clerks and creator of the new Masters of the Universe series on Netflix (called Masters of the Universe: Revelation) was reportedly a massive fan of the of the beloved original. But in his new version, Eternia looks quite a bit different, in fact, Smith’s version isn’t, really, built for kids at all.
Before the show was even released, rumors rumbled through the ether that He-Man was sidelined this series, and that Teela and her “girlfriend” would take over Eternia’s hero-ing duties.
That rumor was apparently shot down by Smith himself on Twitter last year. “He-Man does no stepping aside and Teela has no girlfriend in our show.” But—spoiler alert, for at least part 1 of the series—He-Man does take a narrative back seat to Teela. And if Teela and her adventurous pal Andra aren’t officially an item, the series seems to do its best to suggest that they could be.
And while you’d expect a Masters of the Universe show to be filled with cartoon violence, this one can get a bit gory, too. People are stabbed and melted, and in the second episode, a little girl rotates her head 180 degrees, a la The Exorcist. Spiritual references are far more prevelent in this iteration than the original, and we even hear the occasional swear word.
Many adults who grew up with Masters of the Universe are excited for this new Netflix version, and I get that to an extent. The animation is far better. The stakes are higher. And the characters get actual character, not just a goofy name. (“Sir Laser-Lot?” Really?) And the show offers up some really terrible wordplay, which I’m always in favor of.
But for kids and families, Revelation leaves a lot to be desired.
Thankfully, we have an option to scroll past He-Man’s latest show, or even turn off the screen entirely. The power is yours.
Years later, Teela has turned her back on Castle Grayskull and the defense of Eternia and is now adventuring with her partner, Andra. They’re soon hired by an old woman to retrieve a mysterious goblet from Snake Mountain, Skeletor’s old fortress. But even though Skeletor vanished some time ago, the mountain is inhabited by some familiar faces.
The old villain Tri-Klops is ensconced now in Snake Mountain, leading a techno-centric religion. He intones that the “Motherboard is forever strong, forever merciful,” and he leads followers in prayer, “in the name of robotics, automation and the holy sprocket.” Other spiritual references proliferate, too, and the techno-religious call magic a “false god” and a “sinner’s solution.” Magic is still present on Eternia, too (though greatly weakened), and we see magical practitioners cast spells and such. We also hear that the two parts of He-Man’s Sword of Power have gone to Preternia and Subternia (described as the land of the dead), and a character equates them to heaven and hell.
Speaking of which, characters say “h—” incorrectly a couple of times, too. They also say “crap,” and we hear a misuse or two of God’s name. And the action can get pretty disturbing and borderline gory. Someone turns into a cyborg-like fellow, with his eye popping out of his socket on top of a newly formed tentacle. A girl twists her head toward her back, looking incredibly evil as she does so.
As Teela ceremonially takes on the title of Man-at-Arms for Eternia, Skeletor and his evil forces plot to attack Castle Grayskull—not to take the fortress for himself, but to tear it down and reveal the much more valuable secrets underneath. It’s up to He-Man and his allies to put a stop to Skeletor’s latest evil plan … but this time the climactic battle will have some unforeseen, and tragic, consequences.
We see and hear about magic quite a bit. The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull is very much a part of the action, as is Skeletor’s pal Evil-Lyn. People shift shapes and cast spells, and Skeletor is referred to as a “demon.” Animated outfits can be a bit revealing, too, and when Prince Adam transforms into He-Man, we see a loincloth magically wrap around his uncovered (but indistinct) middle.
A character is burned to nothing. Another is stabbed through his chest (but seems to recover quickly). Two vanish in a climactic showdown. Someone is sliced in half. An act of sacrifice saves the universe.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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