SPOILER: The following content reveals details from the episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation.
The Masters of the Universe reboot on Netflix (titled Masters of the Universe: Revelation) directed by Kevin Smith has been receiving praise from critics, but a lot of angry reactions from audiences and longtime fans of the franchise.
Fans had been highly anticipating this new take on the mythos of Masters of the Universe, particularly how it would handle its traditional lead, Prince Adam/He-Man. But after the series' debut on the Netflix platform, many fans are giving angry and disappointed reactions. Find out why and how the geek culture filmmaker is responding.
In the beginning…
Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob) got the call from Mattel that they were interested in coming up with a Netlflix original series in early 2019. Rob David, vice president of Creative Content at Mattel wanted it to be based on the 1980s Filmation series that helped launch the toy line and made He-Man and the Masters of the Universe a household name.
David had intended for it to not be a complete reboot as the 2002 animated series was. Rather, it was to be a continuation of the original animated series from 1983. But they wanted it done with a more adult approach, in order to appeal to fans of the original series who would now be in their 30s and 40s.
Kevin Smith liked the idea, taking the setting and the mythology of the cartoon but giving it real stakes. That meant the larger-than-life battles between the forces of Eternia and Skeletor’s minions could mean fatalities and injuries, with a real sense of grandiosity.
Working with Netflix original series director Ted Biaselli, they set about to do just that. Thus, the seeds of Masters of the Universe: Revelation was born. As Smith relates in a Variety interview:
… because I know what a fan base reacts like when they don’t get the thing they grew up watching. You think I’m gonna be the fall guy for that? If I’m involved in a thing, it’s going to be true to what it is. It’s gonna be true to the franchise.
This is essentially how the Masters of the Universe: Revelation series was marketed. A series that is based on the Filmation continuity, but with a stronger edge that would please new and old fans. As the July 23, 2021 release date approached, fan anticipation grew, especially after the trailer highlighted some of the events of the series, with He-Man once again in the center stage.
Not what fans were expecting
After the Masters of the Universe: Revelation episodes aired all on the same day on the Netflix platform, the show immediately garnered massive responses. But they were largely negative.
While critics and reviewers from various news and entertainment outlets have praised the Netflix original, much of the praise stems from the show's maturity as well as the animation. By and large, the critical response is consistent with the goal of updating Masters of the Universe to a more contemporary and adult story.
But what was unexpected is the massively negative reactions from the fans. The angry and vocal response on social media as well as on review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes has been both baffling and extreme.
Many fans state that Smith did not deliver what was promised. By that, they mean that the show would focus on He-Man and his adventures after the Filmation series concluded. Although it was never stated that He-Man would be the main protagonist of the show, it is true that the marketing for it was largely He-Man centered, which to a section of the fans was a dirty trick to pull.
Instead, Masters of the Universe: Revelation immediately gets rid of He-Man and Skeletor in the first episode. He-Man would appear in flashbacks that added little to the story being told. And by the end of the series, fans were teased with the return of Prince Adam to the land of the living, only to be unceremoniously killed again (seemingly for good).
There are fans who state this was another example of "subverting expectations" that have become the shorthand of telling compelling stories, comparing it with the Star Wars sequels The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker.
Moreover, the same fans have expressed displeasure about the imbalance and unnecessary character choices made. Many have voiced out how the male characters were made to look ineffectual, even clownish, in order to give the impression that the females are empowered. And although Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) pulled in a strong voice performance as Teela, there are fans who find her gruff and always angry demeanor to be too far away from the original Filmation character and almost unsympathetic.
These fans are quick to point out that they have nothing against Teela (who is the de facto lead in Masters of the Universe: Revelation) and even praised the new depiction of Evil-Lyn as an anti-hero. However, doing this at the expense of the males, treating the rest of the male cast like buffoons (such as Beast-Man and to an extent, even He-Man/Prince Adam), sends the wrong message.
Smith’s and David’s response
Kevin Smith has responded to these angry reactions with a grain of salt. But he has expressed frustration. As Smith states:
It’s been interesting, seeing who truly is a hardcore fan. Because anybody that’s like, ‘Oh, man, there’s not enough He-Man’ or something like that, doesn’t understand the show that we based it on. There were episodes where he lost the sword and he never became He-Man. It wasn’t like He-Man always saved the day. His friends helped him. That was the f*#@ing point of the show.
Smith also states that there is no lack of He-Man’s presence in the show, saying:
I see people online go, ‘Hey man, they’re getting rid of He-Man!' Like, you really f*#@ing think Mattel Television, who hired me and paid me money, wants to do a f*#@ing ‘Masters of the Universe’ show without He-Man? Grow the f*#@ up, man. Like, that blew my mind, bunch of people being like, ‘Oh, I smell it. This is a bait and switch.
As for the end of the first five episode series where Skeletor stabs Prince Adam before the latter could transform into He-Man (and Skeletor claiming the power of Grayskull), Rob David had this to say:
Adam’s story is not done and will never be done. Not saying what happens to him, but I’m just saying the stories continues.
Would the promise of a resolution in part 2 of the Masters of the Universe: Revelation be enough to assuage fans? At the moment, the answer seems no. But if Part 2 does deliver on the promise of a satisfying progression of the plot threads in part 1, it would certainly vindicate the creative choices made by Smith and company.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation is available for streaming on Netflix.