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.
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.
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.
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