Part of what made She-Ra and the Princesses of Power so good was the way he completely reinvented the classic cartoon. It was still set in a magical kingdom with talking horses and evil robot armies, but it took an old show – which, if we’re being honest, was created for the express purpose of selling toys – and gave to his characters and his world a real depth and meaning. It was funny and exciting, heartbreaking and beautiful, with no commercials for a toy in sight.
On the surface, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, which stars He-Man, She-Ra’s lost twin brother, isn’t all that exciting. It’s not a reboot but a direct sequel, which is supposed to pick up right after the original cartoon ended in 1985. It has the same cast of characters, some of whom are quite awkward, like a weakling fighting cat and a wizard. alien with self-esteem issues. Skeletor (now played by Mark Hamill) remains a gigantic jerk. Yet, thanks to a bold decision early on, the show manages to grow into something that almost feels new.
Big spoilers for Masters of the Universe: Revelation forward.
Because it’s a direct sequel, Revelation don’t waste time putting things in place. Immediately, Skeletor is in the middle of a plan to destroy Castle Grayskull in order to reveal his true power so he can harness it for himself. Unfortunately, his attack has the side effect of not only destroying the planet Eternia, but all of existence as well. In order to avoid this, He-Man sacrifices himself and his magical sword, taking Skeletor with him in the process. After just one episode, the two most iconic faces in the series are killed.
It’s a dramatic change, and from there Revelation looks like something out of a post-apocalyptic fantasy wasteland. The story quickly moves forward a few years when Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a former royal guard, is now a scavenger, making a living searching for old bits of technology and items imbued with magic. There is a strange cult that revere technology, and without Skeletor to lead them, Eternia’s many villains have dispersed. Eventually, Teela learns that the planet is slowly dying as her magic escapes, so she reluctantly sets out to find the two halves of He-Man’s sword of power in order to set things right. It’s one of those epic quests that involves traveling both to Heaven and Hell, and gathering a group of misfits to help you do it.
This premise allows the show to primarily move away from the Saturday morning cartoon vibe of the original, while still retaining the same characters and world. Eternia remains an interesting mix of sci-fi, swords and witchcraft, as if Frank Frazetta and Ralph McQuarrie are having a jam session. Killer robots fight alongside Beastmen, and sword-wielding warriors ride mechanical horses and armored cats in battle. Things have a little more Mad Max atmosphere this time around, with villages fighting for the last drops of magic while techno-cult terrorizes them. Plus, Teela has a new job as a mercenary, Man-at-Arms (Liam Cunningham) has become an Obi-Wan-style hermit, and Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey) remains confused with no dictator to support. They all end up joining forces in the quest.
It might sound like a reboot, but the series retains some of the silliness inherent in its predecessor. RevelationThe writers of have never encountered a terrible pun they disliked, and characters like the wicked moron Mer-Man and the perpetually terrified Cringer feel out of place in this more gritty world. The acting is also uneven. There are good individual performances – Cunningham adds a welcome gravity, Headey channels his inner Cersei and Hamill does it as always – but it often feels like a video game where everyone has recorded their lines separately. (There are also some weird jokes, like a “no glove, no love” quip that doesn’t seem appropriate in a PG cartoon.)
Due to all of these elements, the show is not as refreshing or daring as She-Ra. But for a direct sequel to the original cartoon designed to sell toys, it’s surprisingly modern; the dramatic opening paves the way for a new path even though Revelation never completely separates from its source. What’s available now on Netflix is also just the beginning: Part 1 of Revelation lasts for five episodes, and the final episode suggests there may be even bigger changes going forward.
Masters of the Universe: Revelations will be on Netflix on July 23.