As a child of the 80s, I grew up watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and it was, along with Gummi Bears, my favourite show. I didn’t have any of the figurines to play with and it was always a treat to visit a friend who did. We’d make up stories where He-Man and his team always defeated Skeletor and his bad guys. I never missed an episode if I could help it, and when we finally had a VCR I recorded as much of it as I could so that I could watch it over and over again until those old Beta tapes needed to be rewound manually.
What was it about He-Man that I enjoyed so much when I was in my pre-teen years? As an adult today, I would say it was the sense of wonder I had in a world in which magic and technology co-existed, the adventures with a character who shed his vulnerable persona to become the strongest man in the universe, and the female warrior fighting by his side. Ultimately, these were stories of hope: hope that we could be heroes too and the knowledge that good will always vanquish evil.
This new incarnation of the series gives me none of that.
[Spoilers for the first series of Masters of the Universe: Revelation follow.]
Although Masters of the Universe: Revelation had lured me in with nostalgia, I expected modern computer-generated animation to go with a plot that would be updated for a contemporary audience, but that would still follow the general principles that had made the original series so great. Instead, the animation has that same 80s retro feel, but the story is most definitely a thing of the 2020s. If you’re looking for hope here, you’re in the wrong place.
In the very first episode, He-Man is killed. Many of the series’ negative critique is based upon the premise that the hero everyone expected the story to revolve around is now gone, and instead we have a disillusioned Teela as the main character. I think that’s a valid response and doesn’t necessarily need to indicate misogynistic viewership. I get that women and LGBTQ+ characters were minoritized previously and that the scales need to be rebalanced, but does this need to happen at the cost of established stories? Why can’t He-Man remain the hero, especially in this day and age where white men are vilified at every opportunity? Surely straight white boys also deserve someone to look up to? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to keep He-Man as the main character, but stripped of the patriarchal biases of a bygone era and equipped with more modern values?
As shocking as He-Man’s death was, I continued watching because the story question intrigued me: what would happen to Eternia if He-Man died? I was willing to accept Teela as our MC, but the way her character was handled turned me off from the start. Her overreaction at the revelation of He-Man’s secret identity was too melodramatic, and her choice to reject her friends and family and run off to become a coin-grabbing mercenary made no sense. Writers these days seem to think that a strong female character is one that has biceps the size of He-Man’s thighs and a fondness for punching everyone who gets in her way. Instead, I would have liked to see her fill the hole left by He-Man’s demise and become the hero the people need in this time of crisis. I would have her prove that evil can still be defeated without a god-complex and with the support of friends and family. Instead, they gave her an edgy haircut and a chip on her shoulder.
Just as disappointing was Evil-Lyn’s character arc. She joins the band of reluctant heroes and proves herself trustworthy time and again – even if this is only for selfish reasons as she fights to get her own power back. She is often introspective and at one point openly questions her life decisions, regretting the fact that she had chosen to become Skeletor’s henchman rather than trying to seize the power to become a Master of the Universe herself. As she grudgingly becomes friends with the band of misfit heroes, there is even hope that she might do better in future. This hope is killed as soon as Skeletor is revived. Let’s face it – I never expected her to give up her evil ways, but after the journey she’d been on, I was hoping she’d cast him aside to become a full-scale villain in her own right. Perhaps turn the tables even more and have him be her lackey for a while as he slowly regains his powers. Alas, it seems like women who are not leading ladies are forever destined to stand in a man’s shadow.
Another concept that had potential to be really interesting but failed epically was Triclops’ technocult. It makes sense that a world suddenly bereft of magic would turn to technology for salvation. What doesn’t make sense is the magical elixir that acolytes need to drink to transform them into crazed cyborgs. Apart from the logical flaw, why would anyone even do that? What do they gain from this? And what does it add to the story? As far as I can tell, this cult only exists to show up at inconvenient moments and get dismembered during last-minute rescues. They have no motivation of their own, nothing they’re trying to achieve, and were probably just added for cool-factor.
And finally, let’s get to Adam. He-Man dies in a blaze of exploding magic and Adam is sent to Preternia, also known as Heaven in this series. This is a physical place exclusively set aside for dead heroes of the Sword of Power (I think, there’s an unintelligible Sorceress in there too). Teela and the gang find Adam there and paint a picture of the post-magic world that convinces him he needs to go back to the land of the living. The other dead heroes warn Adam that if he dies again, he will not be returned to Preternia, but will die a true death like any other mortal. And because Adam is a genuine hero, he doesn’t let that stop him. He goes back, and is promptly killed (maybe) by a revived Skeletor. At this point, I was ready to fling my phone across the room. There are countless ways in which Skeletor’s rise to power could have been achieved without this bookend death. The previous two episodes also ended in the death of beloved characters, and although theirs were sacrifices made to save their friends, Adam’s death was pure shock value.
In the 80s, each story ended with victory and hope for a better future, and maybe it was the retro animation that tricked me into thinking it could also end with that happy moral here.
But I guess in 2021 we can’t expect the same, can we?
Masters of the Universe: Revelation left me disillusioned, disgruntled, and disinterested. I doubt I’ll watch the second series. I have no hope of it being any better than the first.
Have you seen this new series yet? What did you think of it? Did you love it or hate it?