“Masters Of The Universe: Revelations: Part 1” Review!

I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the original Masters Of The Universe franchise is limited to the areas in which the 1980’s cartoon overlapped with its sister series, She-Ra – and even more specifically, limited to the few and far between instances in which the recent reboot of She-Ra referred back to those earlier overlaps. I’m the type of person who, at multiple points while watching the new Masters Of The Universe reboot, found myself more interested in learning how the planet Eternia from Masters Of The Universe was connected to Etheria from She-Ra (in case you’re wondering, they’re actually sister planets, and the alien First Ones from She-Ra are the Elders of the He-Man and Masters Of The Universe mythos), than in the actual story.

Masters Of The Universe
Skeletor and He-Man | deadline.com

So I’m not the type of person to get enraged by that plot twist at the end of episode one. If you know, you know. Even if you don’t know, you’ve probably already seen an army of embittered dudebros fit to rival the Horde, churning out unnecessarily long Twitter threads about how the new reboot is ruining Masters Of The Universe with its “SJW agenda!”, review-bombing the show on Rotten Tomatoes, and generally having the kind of loud and embarrassing public temper-tantrum that would normally make me more interested in this show. If it angers those guys, it’s gotta be doing something right…right?

Well, no. Because when I got up to the plot twist, I realized that I also just…didn’t care much about it one way or the other. Simply put, Masters Of The Universe basically jumps into the story with the assumption that you’re already a hardcore fan of the original 1980’s series, and don’t need a refresher on who its main characters are or why we should feel emotionally attached to any of them. It offers the general audience member almost no time to know either Prince Adam (voiced by Chris Wood), better known as the hulking hero He-Man, or the warrior Teela (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), before the twist happens and throws everything into the kind of disarray that would probably have felt a lot more earned near the end of this first season.

But here’s the thing: the twist isn’t a bad plot twist. Obviously, it’s angered a lot of people – including some who I’m sure have legitimate reasons for being angry that are a bit more rational than the reasoning of right-wing trolls. I can definitely see why it might disappoint some fans. But perhaps because I have no nostalgia for Masters Of The Universe, and no attachment to these characters, the plot twist does sound good on paper to me. It could have led to a really compelling upheaval of the show’s status quo. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. And the show very quickly turns around and signals its intentions to undo the twist, which feels like a cheap way to keep people watching until yet another plot twist in the finale that I think is bound to upset pretty much everybody at this point.

And even though Masters Of The Universe is only five episodes, each around thirty minutes long (to be clear, this short season is billed as “Part 1” of what I believe will be a two-part series), the story botches its attempt to springboard off the shock value of the first plot twist and steer that momentum to the end. It repeatedly drags to a halt and then awkwardly starts up again, constantly throwing new and increasingly one-dimensional characters at the screen in an attempt to create the illusion of action. Even the protagonist has only the bare bones of what could have been an arc, but which is abruptly resolved in episode four, leaving them to do a whole lot of nothing in the finale.

Masters Of The Universe
Orko and Evil-Lyn | geekgirlauthority.com

But while the vast majority of the characters in this show are interchangeable, brightly-colored cardboard cutouts, there are two exceptions: Orko (voiced by Griffin Newman) and Evil-Lyn (voiced by Game Of Thrones‘ Lena Headey). The former is one of He-Man’s magical sidekicks, who must confront his feelings of inadequacy head-on while his life is very literally endangered with each passing day – he doesn’t have nearly enough screen-time, but every moment of it is well-utilized. Headey’s Evil-Lyn also undergoes a lot of growth, albeit reluctantly, when she finds herself suddenly free to choose her own destiny: she has a very large role, and is probably the only reason I’m genuinely excited for Part 2.

As for Mark Hamill’s villainous Skeletor, well…he’s not really in the show all that much, and Hamill doesn’t get a chance to exercise much of the campy over-the-top humor I think we hoped he’d bring to the iconic character. He does a lot of wheezing and maniacal laughing, and maybe that’s all that some fans need from Skeletor, but the memes and gifs I’ve seen of the original 1980’s version promised a much more animated performance than what we get from this reboot.

The weakness of the characters might have been excusable or at the very least tolerable, if the plot were more compelling, or the action scenes more thrilling and diverse. But Masters Of The Universe‘s core issue, as I see it, is that the series doesn’t know whether the now-adult audience of the original, shamelessly cheesy cartoon wants their reboot to have matured alongside them, or not. And out of all that wavering is born both a tangled mess of a story that can shift from being obviously (and at times gratingly) aimed at children, to being shockingly dark and depressing without a moment’s notice, and a series of fight sequences that are just as tonally jarring.

So what is the fan-base for this show going to look like, exactly? It’s too diverse for the dudebros, clearly (to which I can only say: good). It tries to play the Ambiguously Gay card with Teela in what I assume is a halfhearted effort to appeal to She-Ra fans, but the show lacks most of the qualities that made She-Ra special to so many people. It will probably upset a lot of fans of the original He-Man series because of some of the choices it makes. It wobbles between being too reliant on prior knowledge of the franchise for kids, and too kiddish for adults.

Masters Of The Universe
He-Man | polygon.com

There’s stuff worth salvaging from this wreck of a first season, namely Lena Headey’s Evil-Lyn, but I’m not sure it’s anywhere near enough to warrant resurrecting this franchise while doing nothing to put a fresh spin on it in the way She-Ra did with its source material. Sorry, folks, but I’ll take the Princesses of Power over the Masters of the Universe any day.

Series Rating: 5/10

“The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Review!

Right up front, I’m going to express my disappointment that my review of Netflix’s new original series is not quite as glowing as certain others are. Not only do I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 89% Fresh rating, but I don’t understand it. I do notice, though, that the series is not rated Certified Fresh, which is some relief to me, writing this ballad of a sadly underwhelmed audience-member. Audiences across the world seem to be greatly enjoying The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, but it’s rather hard to figure out whether that excitement comes from hardcore Dark Crystal fans or mainstream Netflix-watchers. I’m going to guess the former, because this show seemed, at least to me, to have very little mainstream appeal. Let’s discuss.

Firstly, puppets. Puppets can be wonderful fun, and, if done right, with charm and humor, they can even be fun to watch onscreen: countless Muppet movies (great Muppet movies, at that) and the huge success of Sesame Street prove that. But unfortunately, charm and humor are two noticeable absences in the Dark Crystal franchise, which is both grim and serious, and incredibly macabre – even nightmarish, but we’ll get to that. Where Jim Henson’s other movies had fun and dance, musical numbers, cameos from human actors and a general atmosphere of carefree recklessness, his original Dark Crystal was an attempt to pivot away from that image. It deserves praise for the fact that it was one of the first big fantasy epics, and its creation was a huge undertaking. However, when it released in 1982, it was not the massive success that Henson had hoped for, receiving a mixed response from both critics and audiences. Those who did fall in love with it, however, never fell out of love, and so the new Netflix prequel has a small, but loyal niche fanbase that it wants to attract. As for me, I have never loved the original movie: I hated it, in fact. The puppets, with their strange, glassy eyes and grotesque rogues gallery of bird-like Skeksis, all living on what was supposed to be a barren alien planet – not my thing.

That’s probably at least partly why this new series just wasn’t for me. The puppets haven’t changed in the decades since the original movie was released. I am not an expert on puppet technology, but as far as I can tell, an effort has been made to use the same sort of techniques as Jim Henson did all those years ago: over-zealous loyalty to a project is not unheard of, and can be understandable, if said project doesn’t really require major changes for modern audiences to enjoy it. Dark Crystal, however, is outdated, and makes no effort to change that: the story is still a huge, intricate mess of mythology, religion, philosophy and fantasy cliches; the puppets are still obviously puppets, and their glassy-eyed stares remain their signature feature.

I intend no disrespect to the series’ puppeteers, who do an excellent job: their work is incredible, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. I also have huge respect for the amazing voice cast: many of the actors are quite good in their roles, though there are more than a few who only show up once or twice and have barely any dialogue: Alicia Vikander, Natalie Dormer, Hannah John-Kamen and Mark Strong are some of the latter – of the former, we have Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Donna Kimball and Lena Headey to thank, for making this show ever so slightly more entertaining than it would otherwise have been. I’ll spare some praise for Sigourney Weaver, who gets to narrate the opening of the first episode.

As for the characters these hugely-talented actors and actresses are voicing, well…watching their individual stories isn’t always quite as interesting as playing Who’s Who with the voice cast, but there are a few I can think of: Mother Aughra (Donna Kimball), the benevolent but cranky guardian of Thra, is especially fun to watch, and the puppeteers gave her enough quirky little traits, from facial movements to her distinctive style of dancing, that make her seem like an actual character, rather than some of the thin, underdeveloped cardboard cutouts that pass for protagonists in this series. Tavra, Seladon and Brea, the three sundered daughters of the All-Maudra (Helena Bonham-Carter), are also especially interesting, and the way that their stories diverge and reunite is imaginative. But of these, only Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a main character: for the most part, we’re stuck watching Rian (Taron Egerton) either walking from place to place, or stopping to share his memories with literally everybody he meets (after the third or fourth of these long, redundant, dream-sharing encounters, I was ready to turn off the show). Deet the Grotten (Nathalie Emmanuel) is somewhat more interesting, but her story takes a bizarre and unexplained twist in the last few episodes. As for Maudra Fara, she’s actually quite likable, which is somewhat conflicting, considering that she speaks with the villainous voice of Lena Headey, who portrayed the evil Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones.

Talking of villains, it’s time to discuss those which dwell in Thra, and present the main threat to our Gelfling heroes. The Skeksis, repugnant vulture-people from another world, who have subjugated the Gelfling people and enslaved the Crystal of Truth to their will. I want to take a moment to point out that, somehow, the Gelflings, who are shown to have vaguely-human aesthetics and personalities, are completely oblivious to the fact that gigantic, hulking anthropomorphic vultures living in a claw-shaped Gothic castle might be evil. The Skeksis are absolutely revolting and repulsive, with zero redeemable qualities, and no actual personalities to speak of – so why, then, do we spend about fifty percent of the show’s screentime watching them squabble pointlessly, in a boring parody of Game of Thrones‘ layered dynastic rivalry and wars for the throne. There are so many pointless scenes of Skeksis eating, I thought I might lose my mind: if not my appetite. This is a personal preference, but I cannot stand two types of villain: (a) the CGI-construct with no personality who yells “Kill them all!” and dumb stuff like that (Azog from The Hobbit fits the bill), and (b) pompous, swaggering, disgusting buffoons (such as the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit). The Skeksis combine the worst elements of both of these villain cliches, and take them to the next level. Only The Hunter even came close to being an intimidating antagonist, but his supporting character-status was undeserved and infuriating.

All this is truly saddening, because the Skeksis could have been excellent. If I had been the showrunner, I would have probably changed their appearance, first of all: wouldn’t resplendent peacock-feathers or gaudy, glorious plumage have done the trick of showing Skeksi greed and avarice just as well as bald, wrinkly faces and harsh, raspy evil laughter? This is a prequel, for Thra’s sake – they could have done anything with the Skeksis! The possibilities were endless. There were themes and shades of some of the great fantasy villains at work here, but none ever reached full potential: the Skeksi fear of death and their desperate attempts to evade it, for example, resembled the actions of Tolkien’s Numenoreans, clinging to life at all costs, warring on the earth and the gods in the faint hope of winning immortality.

It’s not the only Tolkien theme glimpsed in Age of Resistance: in the very first episode, while a Skeksi narrates about the inevitability of evil and how the strong will always conquer the weak, we watch a montage which proves otherwise, showing various Gelfling heroes starting out on their individual quests for justice and truth, in a reverse of Sam Gamgee’s “stories that really matter” speech at the end of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers (which is also on Netflix, now, by the way). The series has very Tolkienesque ecological messaging, and the Gelflings, bound up with the fate of Thra, are nothing if not a hybrid between Tolkien’s hobbits and elves. But sadly, these themes get buried under so many fantasy plot points (magic sword! prophecies! mystic arts!) that it’s hard to find them at first.

All in all, the series is far too long. I flew through the first three episodes, even if they were rather weak, and the fourth through sixth episodes were actually quite good: seven through ten, however, drag the story out far too long. The eventual finale lands with a resounding thud: a more disappointing climax, I could not envision. That might be because the series tries too hard to make you want to go watch Dark Crystal after it’s finished, which is something I do not want to do, and don’t ever want to do again. So many things are left unanswered, and the final showdown between Gelflings and Skeksis is so underwhelming – was it because full-out puppet war is rather hard to manage? Did the budget not allow for it? I don’t know: all I can say for certain is that I was hugely disappointed.

It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to like it. The trailers showed off stunning visual beauty, Gelfling heroics, and epic warfare: unfortunately, in the actual series, these things are few and far between. If you’re a puppet nerd, a hardcore sword-and-sorcery fan, or a Henson completionist, I urge you to watch this series, since you might enjoy it far more than I did. But all that I’m left with is the feeling that I wasted time on this series, when I could have been…oh, I don’t know, watching The Two Towers instead. It’s all the same stuff, but it doesn’t have creepy vulture-puppets.

Series Rating: 5/10

Kit Harington Enters The MCU!

It’s only been a few months since the epic(ly disappointing) finale of the HBO hit series Game of Thrones, and many have been wondering where the Emmy-award winning show’s stars will go next: Emilia Clarke, best known as Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, etc, etc, is starring in a chipper Christmas rom-com; Maisie Williams, the girl with no name, is starring in a British comedy series; Lena Headey, the notorious villainess Cersei Lannister, will next be seen in Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance; and as for the show’s star, Kit Harington…well, he promptly disappeared into a rehab facility, apparently suffering from stress. How much of said stress was caused by the strenuous and tiresome process of filming Game of Thrones is as yet unknown, but it looks like the actor is back on his feet and making a return to the entertainment industry in appropriately epic fashion: landing a role in a Marvel movie.

Harington is not the first of the show’s cast to end up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: last year, Peter Dinklage had a glorified cameo in Avengers: Infinity War. Sophie Turner, Thrones‘ Queen in the North, appeared in the Fox X-Men movies, and was soon to be joined by Maisie Williams – before things went abruptly downhill for that franchise. And earlier this year, a star from earlier seasons, Richard Madden, joined the ever-expanding cast of Marvel’s upcoming Eternals. And now, Harington has too.

Eternals covers the story of a race of space gods created at the beginning of the universe with the task of protecting and preserving the planet Earth. Madden, who played too-pure-for-this-world war hero Robb Stark on Game of Thrones, is here portraying the leader of the Eternals, Ikaris, who sports a dashing blue outfit and otherwise looks exactly like Richard Madden: thankfully, the horrendous hairdos from the 1970’s comics have been thrown out in favor of a more streamlined, modern approach. Harington, on the other hand, has been cast in the role of an Arthurian-inspired knight with a black outfit, a magical sword, a semi-divine love interest, and…hey, wait, is he just playing Jon Snow again?

Well, kind of. Harington’s new character, Dane Whitman, better known as the Black Knight, is definitely one of the most Game of Thrones-ish heroes Marvel has ever created, being the descendant of an actual member of King Arthur’s Round Table, who received his magical weapon from Merlin the magician: Whitman himself is also the recipient of supernatural gifts from otherworldly beings, as the Lady of the Lake (yes, the very same) gave him a winged horse named Strider – because, if you’re going to rip off fantasy tropes, why not rip off from the best? In a movie that already has an 11-member ensemble cast, I honestly have no clue whether Marvel will have time to fit in a backstory explaining that the Arthurian legends are MCU canon, but maybe that could be explored in future films.

The important thing to note is that Black Knight, while not an Eternal himself, is a love interest of the Eternal enchantress, Sersi – who has also been cast today, with Captain Marvel actress Gemma Chan filling the role. Introducing Black Knight and Sersi to the MCU on the same day certainly suggests that we’ll see them pair up in this movie, but it does raise some intriguing questions: in comics lore, Sersi is more commonly involved with Ikaris, so which one will she choose in the movies? And if she chooses to be with Black Knight, does that leave Ikaris open to be the MCU’s first gay character, as Marvel president Kevin Feige suggested last month?

Something that has bothered Marvel fans today is the fact that Harington’s talent is being “wasted” in such an “insignificant” role, when he could be playing somebody “important” like Wolverine. Regardless of the fact that Harington really doesn’t resemble Wolverine at all, this is a classic case of fans going in with expectations way too high: I’ll admit I was hopeful for a Fantastic Four reveal today, but anything having to do with the X-Men is probably at least a year away, if not further. Besides, we don’t know yet how big a role Black Knight will play in Eternals, or whether he’ll feature in future films; so, until then, let’s hope for the best, right? And let’s not forget that people also felt like Gemma Chan was wasted in Captain Marvel – and look at her now, getting a second chance in the MCU as the star of one of their upcoming films. Anything is possible in Marvel these days.

Even the Lady of the Lake, apparently.

“Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Final Trailer!

The Darkening is upon us in the final trailer for Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, the prequel series to Jim Henson’s cult-classic Dark Crystal. Personally, I never knew we needed a prequel to that film. But then again, I also never knew I would actually be interested in that prequel.

This series looks…good. It still looks kind of terrifying and weird, because it still relies on puppets – and these aren’t the types of puppets you see on Sesame Street: they’re slightly more realistic, in a weird, distorted sort of way, and some of them are huge lurking vulture-creatures called Skeksis, who want to control the magical world of Thra. None of them are particularly adorable or endearing, which could end up being a turn-off for some people. I’m trying not to get freaked out by them, though, because the story looks insanely epic. There’s amazing visuals, an incredible voice-cast, and a compelling message of hope, inspiration, and courage. At least, I think the message is one of hope – I can’t really remember anything from Dark Crystal except that there were lots of vulture Skeksis, so I’m going to assume that the resistance in Age Of Resistance possibly doesn’t eradicate them entirely? Honestly, I don’t know, so I’ll be going into this series pretty much blind. And yes, I will be watching it, no matter how frightening it is.

I was already sold when Lena Headey joined the cast, but this trailer has done a lot to cement my hopes for the show: this trailer is everything I needed it to be – the stakes are high, the thrills are intense, the range of emotion coming from these puppets is disturbing. I feel invested in the arcs of our protagonists, Deet, Rian and Brea…evenĀ  if I don’t know which is which yet. Maybe it’s the stirring music, or the beautiful narration about the fragility of hope, which “catches the light, splitting the darkness, revealing your destiny”. Maybe it’s just because I still feel shell-shocked and I’m not even realizing that I’m seriously considering watching an entire series about creepy puppet-people.

While I sort out my emotional trauma, I’ll pose the question to you: are you planning to watch Age Of Resistance when it debuts on August 30th? Are you scared of the Gelflings and the Skeksis? Are you totally comfortable with the idea of watching scary Muppets fight to the death for the freedom of their alien world, and if so, do you think you should seek help?

Trailer Rating: 8/10