Part 1 of Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation was better than it had any right to be. Billed as a sequel to an ‘80s cartoon that never had enough story to make a sequel feasible, Kevin Smith managed to pull off a minor miracle by staying true to the foundations of the franchise while expanding it for its now 40-something fans. Unfortunately, this makes the problems of Part 2 of Revelation all the more disappointing.
The end of Part 1 included what was one of the best cliffhangers in recent memory: Mere minutes after Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Andra (Tiffany Smith), and Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey) managed to resurrect the deceased Prince Adam (Chris Wood), the secretly resurrected Skeletor (Mark Hamill) stabbed him in the back just as he was about to transform into He-Man. It was a shocking development in a series that already had plenty of shocks, followed by Skeletor finally holding He-Man’s sword, yelling “I have the power,” and transforming into Skele-God. It felt like a truly hopeless situation for our heroes, which was immensely exciting.
The biggest problem with the second half of Revelation is Skele-God — which is really two problems, namely Skeletor and the show’s baffling use of the power of Grayskull. Whereas the first half of the series managed to stride confidently in both the ‘80s cartoon and a nostalgic show for grown-up fans, the show trips and falls, careening chaotically between the two sides. This Skeletor murders heroes but still calls people “blathering boobs.” He’s depicted as Evil-Lyn’s physically and emotionally abusive lover as well, but Revelation inexplicably has him constantly making “quips,” most of which are groaners, and many of which are puerile. When the villain threatens to cut off Man-at-Arms’ (Liam Cunningham) “man-at-arms” you can almost see Skeletor’s eyebrows wagging despite the fact that he doesn’t have them. Skele-God should be the character at his most menacing, but instead, he somehow has less gravitas than his ‘80s incarnation.
This is despite Skeletor being confusingly much, much more powerful than He-Man is/was, despite the fact that they technically should have received the same power-up when they yelled “I have the power!” You could kind of handwave it away because Skeletor was already a powerful sorcerer while Adam is a scrawny teen, but Skele-God can turn entire city’s inhabitants into zombies with a wave of his arm. Evil-Lyn later tells him he can crush King Randor (Diedrich Baker) from afar with a single thought, which is wild when He-Man is just… really strong. When Evil-Lyn eventually seizes the sword and power of Grayskull for herself, she destroys Preternia (the Masters of the Universe equivalent of heaven). But in Revelation’s final battles between He-Man and Skeletor and God-Lyn and Teela (as the newly appointed Sorceress), it still devolves into sword-fighting and magic blasts. That would have been fine, had Revelation not gone so far out of its way to up the ante beforehand.
There are other bummers. Andra, an essentially new character who was Teela’s adventuring partner in the first half of season one, is almost completely sidelined. Smith can’t help indulging in bouts of crass immaturity, like Fisto (Ralph Garman) exclaiming, “I’d sure like to fist him!” upon seeing Skele-God, or the extremely awful (implied) sex scene between Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. While the idea that Adam can call down the power of Grayskull without the sword is cool, and it’s awesome to watch Savage He-Man beat the living hell out of Skele-God, this He-Man is just 100% the Hulk. The worst part is that all of Evil-Lyn’s character development from the first half of the series gets derailed to focus on her abusive relationship with Skeletor, which is a natural extrapolation from their relationship in the ‘80s cartoon but isn’t handled with the deftness that such a story requires — a deftness that probably isn’t possible even in an “adult” version of Masters of the Universe.
All that said, there’s still a lot to like about Part 2. The show impressively manages to portray Prince Adam as a hero in his own right, and why the Sorceress (Susan Eisenberg) chose him as her champion. His emotional reunion with his parents, King Randor and Queen Marlena (Alicia Silverstone), is genuinely touching without being overwrought. Teela rewriting the rules of Castle Grayskull is cool, if vague. Since the episodes spend more time in Eternia proper, the show’s look has a chance to evoke the classic cartoon’s wonderful background art, which it does marvelously. Evil-Lyn’s character designs as the evil Sorceress and as God-Lyn are great, even if the latter looks like a Final Fantasy villain. And Orko (the outstanding Griffin Newman) — who basically gets resurrected as Orko the White — is a total badass, leaving me still utterly bewildered that my least favourite He-Man character is now favourite.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation Part 2 is still worth watching if you’re an old-school He-Man fan, as it continues to fulfil those storylines the ‘80s cartoon implied but never followed up on. It’s just a bummer to see the revitalized show miss the high bar it previously set for itself. Unsurprisingly, the series ends with a tease for a second season, which it may or may not get — and, troubles aside, I hope it does. The show proved that it has the power to be great — it just needs to hold onto that power next time.
- Tri-Klops’ bizarre techno-cult existed in the first half of the season purely so that the second half could end with a tease that the Horde is coming in season two, should that come to pass. That sounds great, if very expected, but I wonder if Skeletor getting infected by Motherboard’s techno-virus means he’s going to become the Skeletor of The New Adventures of He-Man, the 1990 sequel cartoon which sent He-Man and his foe into space and completely bombed. Honestly, I think that would kind of rule.
- Why does the “untempered” power of Grayskull manifest as pure rage? That seems off-brand.
- I kind of get why seeing the vast, unfeeling void of the universe would turn someone into a nihilist, but Evil-Lyn’s decision to erase all of reality still feels completely out of left field.
- I cannot explain how utterly I did not expect Danny Trejo to voice Ram-Man.
- I also cannot explain how much I did not need to know Skeletor fucks.
- “Hi, Mum. Do you mind dropping me off at the ground assault?” Ugh.
- Apparently, you can stop someone from getting sucked back into hell by… just grabbing their hand? This makes absolutely no sense even by the wackiness of Masters of the Universe standards and is completely unearned, but I’ll accept it because I just want more Orko.