The real magic trick that Kevin Smith (yes, Clerks’ Kevin Smith) and his team perform with Netflix’s new Masters of the Universe is this: the stakes feel real.

Well, “real” for a certain value of “real”. Yes, it’s still a cartoon, and yes, it’s still based on Mattel’s range of musclebound science-fantasy action figures that absolutely ruled back in the early ‘80s (I had Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, you guys!). This salvo of five episodes (with five more to come down the track) is in fact a direct sequel to the old Filmation cartoon, meaning it’s not a grim and gritty reboot. All that cheesy after school/Saturday morning stuff? Orko and Cringer and snarky Skeletor and that? It’s in continuity. It’s not dismissed.

And if Masters of the Universe: Revelation was only a continuation of that, tonally the same, it’d be a curio for most of us, and something for a certain stripe of (mostly male, mostly middle-aged) nerds to obsess over. But apparently series executive producer and Masters of the Universe nut Ted Biaselli issued Smith a dictum: “When you tell your story, give it real stakes. Don’t treat the characters like they’re goofy jokes: write them as if we’re doing Shakespeare.” Smith, bless ‘im, took that to heart.

So, Masters of the Universe: Revelation kind of lulls you with its opening movements, which are a pretty close copy of the old cartoons but with better animation (Castlevania’s Powerhouse Animation is on rendering duties). There’s Prince Adam (Chris Wood), there’s warrior woman Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Man-at-Arms (Liam Cunningham), bumbling magician Orko (Griffin Newman) and more, trading corny one-liners. Here comes Skeletor (Mark Hamill, and how stacked is this voice cast?) cackling maniacally, and Evil Lynn (Lena Headey) and the bad guys to mess things up. Adam turns into He-Man, Cringer (Stephen Root) turns into Battle Cat, smashy-bashy—you know the drill…

…and then everything changes.


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