“You were the one we made it for!” Kevin Smith told me excitedly during our interview on Netflix Masters of the Universe: Revelation, right after I revealed that I was a huge He-Man fan. He’s not lying. The new series was clearly made for me and the other 80s kids. Those who grew up playing with Masters of the Universe action figures and watching the accompanying cartoon and shouting “I … have … the strength!” every time Prince Adam raised his sword and spoke these magical words. I just do not know if Epiphany was made for someone else – and I’m not sure it matters either?
If you’re not a He-Man fan, I have no idea what you want to think about Masters of the Universe: Revelation. I do not know what you get out of it or whether you get anything at all. The show has been hailed as a sequel to the classic comic, He-Man and the masters of the universe, which means there is very little on the ramp for new viewers to get into the franchise. Admittedly, it’s not a difficult premise to wrap your head around because Epiphany is very devoted to the original series—which was made for children. In fact, the first episode feels like it could be from the 80s series, just with infinitely better art, animation and music.
This is also what is so remarkable about Epiphany. Smith has made an updated version of He-Man and the masters of the universe for adult fans who somehow still feel like they have the DNA from that campy, childish 80s cartoon in there. The floating blue wizard Orko (performed by Griffin Newman) is still a nitwit. Prince Adam’s cat Cringer (Stephen Root) is still a coward. Villains still miraculously jump out of vehicles just before crashing or exploding. The “grown ups” Part of Epiphany comes late in the first episode when Smith introduces something that He-Man and the masters of the universe cartoon never, even had: bets.
Like pretty much all children’s movies in the 80s (the most notable exception is Robotech), He-Man and his comrades defeated the hare-brain scheme, Skeletor and his minions drew to get the massive, ill-defined forces inside Castle Grayskull, and the series was reset. Nothing transferred minus a couple of two parties. Nothing has ever changed. But after He-Man (Chris Wood) fends off Skeletors (Mark Hamill) recent attempt to seize power in Epiphany, something changes – something irrevocable that puts Eternia’s world in a whole new direction from the original comic, and the show’s story continues to build from there. Beloved characters make decisions that would once have been unthinkable. The relationship is fought. The lines between the forces between good and evil are blurred. And in spite of all this, Epiphany still manages to be true to its roots.
The fact that Smith has managed to make a series where MotU characters can experience actual depth and development while Orko can still be buffoonish comic relief is frankly remarkable. I honestly did not think it was possible when the show was announced, but I am incredibly happy to have taken so wrong. Honestly, I’m still wrong how well Smith managed to be true to the original series while telling a coherent, compelling story about He-Man. Not to keep listening to Orko, but there’s a great scene where the funniest part of the 80’s cartoon actually shows pathos, and it’s quite poignant – at least if you’ve had some sort of emotion around Orko before. so Epiphany.
This is not the only paradoxical feat the show is performing. It’s from top to bottom clearly made for older He-Man fans, filled with the kinds of scenes we’re always wished the original series had come to, especially in terms of characters or toys we’ve never seen on screen . Prince Adam is finally portrayed as a younger child instead of just a smaller tan clone of He-Man. That confusing “evil ghost of Skeletor”, Scare Glow, gets a smooth explanation. Castle Grayskull’s history is being explored more than ever in the 80s. However, some of these changes lead the story to some places that are likely to confuse some of these fans. I do not mean the fact that some jackasses will inevitably reject the appearance of He-Man’s allies and one of the few female characters in the original series, Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and (fundamentally) new character Andra (Tiffany Smith), but rather some really unexpected developments that cannot be discussed without destroying them. Suffice it to say, the time for this official promotional image:
This is not a group of characters that would have been related He-Man and the masters of the universeand yet in Epiphany, there’s a lot of reason why Teela is with Skeletor’s henchmen Beast Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Evil-Lyn (Lena Heady’s character rocking the big new ‘do’) – and it has nothing to do with fan- service. It would have been incredibly easy for Smith and The Epiphany the crew to Just Coast by giving fans some cool action scenes and making sure each action figure has his time to shine on screen. Instead, the show goes in some really unexpected directions (let’s just say the first five episodes we’ve seen end on a cliff). Not all of these decisions go beyond something meaningful, and I imagine some fans do not care about them, but Epiphany is a better and much more interesting show to do more than just review a tab of tab service, even though there is still plenty to go around.
If you’re a He-Man fan, there’s far more to like Masters of the Universe: Revelation than there is to dislike. It’s not perfect, but Kevin Smith has drawn a remarkable move by making a sequel to a show that never had a serial narrative, a series that somehow keeps the framework of a cartoon made for eight-year-olds while they build a story designed for middle-aged nerds who still have the original Castle Grayskull play set hanging around their garage, ceiling or living room. If you’re one of those people, Epiphany was literally made for you (and me). Everyone else … maybe go again Loki?
The first five episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation– which also features the voices of Liam Cunningham, Diedrich Bader, Alicia Silverstone, Susan Eisenberg, Kevin Conroy, Phil LaMarr, Henry Rollins, Tony Todd and more – premieres on Netflix on July 23. It also includes writing by Eric Carrasco, Tim Sheridan, Diya Mishra and io9 alum Marc Bernardin.
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