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Review: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Revolution Dares to Grow Up

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Make no mistake: in Masters of the Universe: Revolution, He-Man is back. In truth, he was never truly away. It is simply that with its predecessor Masters of the Universe: Revelation, creator Kevin Smith made the rather basic observation that the original cartoon series was entitled “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and acted accordingly for what was and is a true and spiritual sequel in all of the ways that mattered. In the end Revelation dared to ask the question of “what if Skeletor actually got what he wanted?” and gave the kind of answer fans who grew up on the original ought to find palatable: Prince Adam’s friends did not give up and gave him the chance to come through for them once again, just like always, and the end result was a rousing climax pitting the mightiest Man in the universe against his classic nemesis. And yes, Teela was upgraded to the status of super obvious love interest and basically got equal billing. Cynics and self-styled foes of “wokeness” – kill me now, I’m (not) sorry – had much to speak of this that rarely if ever seemed to consider a rather banal concept: that this was most definitely made first for those who grew up on the original series who would rather like to continue to relate to it all in some way, all of which are grown up and many of which actually have partners of their own. So it goes. And so it went, and the success speaks for itself with the delivery of this five-episode romp of sword & sorcery high adventure.

Looking at it all that way, it is perhaps no surprise that Revolution seems to take a natural step forward. It all kicks off with an action-packed spectacle of an event that one can reasonably describe as “He-Man invades hell to take his friends out of there and completely gets away with it”, as if to go out of its way to shriek “see, we told you so!”. But soon enough, reality strikes when Prince Adam faces something every man does one day: mortality, and the imminent death of his father the king, and a seemingly unavoidable choice between heroics with the sword and ruling with the scepter. In short the times demand that he grow up and decide exactly what that means, and the matter is made into a true choice when a true rival for the throne makes himself known – one that, to Adam, represents not a threat but a truly just option that just might give everyone what they want.

Naturally of course, it doesn’t remain that simple for very long – evil doesn’t wait around for heroes to figure out their lives. On the evil side of things Skeletor is still at large and very much not a fellow in charge of his own destiny, having been brought to heel by the forces of The Horde and Hordak and his mechanical minion Motherboard. A malevolent force imported from She-Ra, The Horde is in every sense well beyond what Skeletor ever was. He was an aspiring despot and egomaniac obsessed with one planet and the secrets of Greyskull, while here The Horde is reinterpreted as a cosmic empire that considers the planet Eternia to be just one more place to conquer. Mechanized militarism and mind control are the core of its strength and malice and Skeletor’s obedience is compelled in this way, a thing that seems to take cues from the completely unrelated children’s show She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

And yet here Skeletor – performed once again with a half-unhinged panache by the great Mark Hamill himself – is once again interpreted as a megalomaniac whose pride and ambition simply cannot be held in check by any force for very long. He’s quite happy to champion The Horde’s technological marvels and supposed progress when it seems to mean more power and gaining the throne he’s sure he always deserved, but the security of both sides become more and more unstable as Skeletor comprehends his place as a tolerated minion and desires very much more – any way he can get it. Science and sorcery, subterfuge and brazen frontal assaults, gloating and feints at submission. At one point or another he uses it all, and Revolution is as much the story of the rise and fall of his personal ambition as it is anything else. Hamill’s Skeletor under Kevin Smith’s modern interpretation stands as a towering monument that a great hero can be made to seem even greater by a great villain.

The proceedings are padded out a bit by a pair of subplots. It becomes clear early on that He-Man’s sword of power is a natural answer to the mass mind control wrought by the technology of the The Horde, and so for a time our hero winds up adventuring against Skeletor without it while Duncan – Man-At-Arms in the classic days and “Man-Of-War” now – takes it to be hopefully upgraded with tech to make it capable of ending everything with one grand gesture. It’s a necessary step but one that puts the forces of good at a significant disadvantage for a time, once certain evil machinations become apparent. Meanwhile on the mystic side of things Teela spends most of the series side tracked on a mystic quest to gain access to all three great forms of magic in a bid to bring back the destroyed realm of the afterlife. Pulling it off means an unexpected reunion with “Evil-Lyn”, standoffish and prickly on the surface but ultimately driven by a genuine desire to find redemption for her role in the loss of the realm in the end. Although the quest has its role to play in things in time, the act isn’t so much about fighting evil as it is a simple act of love – she cares for Adam and does everything just wanting to him to know that his father will go to a better place, and that’s that. Revolution very much wants to sell the idea that the two are in love and in a dire need of a good push to completely embrace it at last, and it’s here where the five episodes of time make it suffer the most – if you’re going to sell a romance, it helps a lot to give the two people some actual time together to have some chemistry. As it is, most of this is left up to the grand battle in the final episode. It’s undoubtedly a cathartic experience, but it also demands that all of the emotional beats have very little time to really deliver and resonate on their own before it’s time for the next epic action sequence. Had Revolution been ten episodes just as Revelation was, it isn’t too hard to imagine a version of this series that made Revolution truly complete as both a romance story and an exceptional case of a rather large ensemble cast getting every chance to shine.

Even so, Revolution manages to end on satisfying notes and leaves nothing unresolved for the end – and an enticing tease for even more. Victory on Eternia does not mean peace for the universe and the end of the horde, and it is very difficult to behold the very end of it all and not contemplate that the intent was for a true trilogy of animated works for this reimagining all along. Let us all hope that this time around, in this case at least, we will in fact get to have nice things.

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