Netflix’s other He-Man reboot feels like it was written by a 5-year-old, in all the best ways

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Mattel’s He-Man is back in fashion. Less than two months later Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Netflix’s all-ages fantasy sequel to the 1980s series), the streaming service came out with another reboot, CG animation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. While this new version shares its title with the ’80s show, they don’t have much else in common other than a few points from the basic premise of He-Man: The Evil Skull Man Toy. wants the sword and / or power. Almost everything else is a rough start. And although it may irritate those who have challenged the manners Revelation shifted the narrative focus of the stars of the 1980s series, it’s worth remembering that these series are largely aimed at children – especially this new, proper, airy, zippy adventure with teenage protagonists.

Eternia is now Eternos, a realm where magic and futuristic technology blend together. Prince Adam (Yuri Lowenthal) has been estranged from his father, King Randor (Fred Tatasciore), for a decade and has no memory of who he is. He lives in the wooded outskirts of the kingdom with the Tiger Tribe, a small, peaceful group of humans and tigers living in harmony. (They seem to reject the magic and technology of fear, but that doesn’t play much into the story.) Adam’s closest allies are the tiger Cringer (David Kaye), once his pet in the original, now reimagined as a wiser, older mentor, and his adopted human sister Krass (Judy Alice Lee), a lively, blue-haired, purple-skinned girl who enjoys dropping things with her helmet.

This rural paradise is turned upside down by the arrival of high-tech magician Teela (Kimberly Brooks), reworked into a black teenage girl with white hair, on the run from a pair of villainous thieves she recently betrayed: the brutal Kronis (Roger Craig Smith) and scheming witch Evelyn (Gray Griffin), as well as their gangly, tech-savvy sidekick Duncan (Anthony Del Rio), who doesn’t seem too keen on being a villain.

A CG animated character from the 2021 Netflix series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, with a shiny purple staff and a large purple bat-winged hat

Image: Netflix

Chaos ensues when the villains catch up with Teela, leading to Adam’s discovery of the enormous, anime-inspired version of the Power Sword. This allows him (and him alone) to summon the power of Castle Grayskull and transform from a skinny teenager into the imposing He-Man, the champion of Eternos. However, the long-dormant sword is also a kind of beacon, and its activation awakens a mysterious figure from its ten-year stasis: Adam’s uncle and King Randor’s long-lost brother, Keldor (Ben Diskin), a man with a skeletal hand and a familiar thirst for Grayskull’s powers.

Fans of eagle-eyed He-Man will no doubt recognize some of these names, and while the characters don’t carry all of the hallmarks of their 1980s counterparts, they end up becoming versions of them with enough fleeting resemblance. Krass is a version of Ram Man, He-Man’s short, stocky, spring-legged ally – one of the funniest toys in existence – and she ends up taking on the role of Ram Ma’am. Villains Kronis and Evelyn become Trap Jaw and Evil-Lyn in a surprisingly dazzling way. Duncan is a teenage gunman who leans on the good side. And Keldor is … well, you can figure that out from his blue and purple color scheme, or by putting an “S” in front of his name (yes, he was actually He-Man’s uncle in the comics. .)

Beast-Man, Evil-Lyn, Skeletor and more in Netflix's rebooted CG version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Image: Netflix

But the series’ similarities to the existing canon are much less interesting than its departures. While it retains the premise of a seemingly endless power struggle, it takes a meaningful approach to the He-Man myth. Stories in which royal families are found to have hereditary abilities tend to bypass lineage essentialism. Masters of the Universe transforms this central flaw into a fundamental vanity. When He-Man’s classic foe Skeletor (Diskin) steps in, his story is about absorbing and usurping the powers of others, including those of his evil allies.

In contrast, the show’s version of He-Man shares his powers with Krass, Cringer, Teela, and Duncan, who each undergo similar transformations and are endowed with interesting new technologies and abilities. In a related change, the heroes all seem to know He-Man’s secret identity, though he leads a double life in a different way: as a villager on the run, unsure if he wants to embrace his newly royal bloodline. discovery.

The scenes the team transform into are thunderous and evoke the influence of the series’ anime, as the space contorts around them and scrolls by at the speed of thought. The same transformational clips are used in almost every episode, although this is an idea that works best in a weekly series, but gets repetitive in a 10-episode season released in one go. (It certainly doesn’t help that some of these transformations are meant to have different emotional backgrounds.)

Then again, this may not be a problem for the young target audience, whose attention span requires little more than flashy, searing action – and there are plenty of them. But the show also has a lot more to offer. His jokes and physical gags are always on time and the fights have an imaginative quality. That is, they spring entirely from what looks like a 5-year-old’s imagination, with an endless array of weapons and gadgets stacked on top of each other – from lasers to chainsaw , do you like it? – and exchanges that look like the mash of video game buttons. It’s not as graceful as Masters of the Universe: Revelation, but he’s not trying to be.

Prince Keldor and He-Man face off in Reboot of He-Man and the Masters of the Netflix Universe

Image: Netflix

There are two major drawbacks to releasing the new show between Revelation‘s first and second parts. His version of Orko – a burlesque robot named Ork-0 (Tom Kenny), imbued with the spirit of a former jester – is nothing compared to Revelationis a truly heartwarming incarnation. And this view of He-Man doesn’t seem as thematically or emotionally cohesive as Revelation. Her character-centric stories are generally meaningful – especially for Teela, who feels torn between her voluntary independence and the fact that her newfound magical gifts must be summoned by He-Man. But these stories are also rare and often limited to single episodes at a time. With the exception of Teela’s arc, they rarely have an impact on the overall narrative.

The designs, however, are fantastic. They definitely feel like a whole new line of action figures that flood old concepts with new accessories, but they also have some flourishes and subtleties. Teela has a pair of shiny headphones that constantly hover near her head and emit the blue light of her color palette – each character has their own – while Krass has a slightly wandering eye, the kind of realistic and unnoticed physical detail. that you don’t often see in children’s animation.

The world of the series has hints of cyberpunk influence, both in its biomechanical designs (which are more Apple-like cyberpunk for the heroes, with soft lights and smooth surfaces) and in its story, which briefly mentions the class strata in Eternos, and offers clues to his racial strata. However, that never comes into play in the plot, although Teela explicitly mentions that she is a “street level” citizen, while blue-eyed blond Adam is from a “Superior” family. “, terms that do not amount to just anything.

A bigger design influence appears to be Marvel’s Afrofuturism Black Panther, especially the way cool toned lights shine under the grooves and notches of costumes and other surfaces. Masters of the Universe is not an afrofuturist story, but Black PantherThe thoughtful and thematically appropriate blend of ancient architecture and futuristic technology was bound to take a superficial form in other media, given the mainstream success of the film. But at the very least, the most overt manifestation of this influence in the series is in the conception of a black character, Eldress (Brooks), the series’ version of the Witch, whose appearance is in part a hologram. ghostly, partly an Egyptian deity.

When it comes to the sillier parts of the show’s identity, the dialogue has a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness – the phrase “on the nose” comes up more than once in reference to designs from the 1980s, like the appearance of Skeletor and his serpentine lair. But this meta-humor feels like a wasted effort. The series is at its best when it’s shamelessly wacky. Ben Diskin, for example, has a lot of fun as Skeletor, who, in addition to his quest for the Grayskull throne, also has the secondary motivation to make his lackeys laugh at his litany of terrible skeletal puns. Oddly enough, Diskin looks more like Mark Hamill’s Joker than Mark Hamill when he voiced Skeletor on Revelations, although this is hardly a complaint.

A quiet nighttime consultation between Prince Adam, Cringer, Krass, Duncan and Teela in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Image: Netflix

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a simple show, with simple characters all trying to find their purpose through big battle scenes and with each other’s help. It’s Modern Kid’s Adventure 101, and it works even when it comes to just filling in the gaps in the story with side quests or sudden vehicle breakdowns. (Nothing that good old-fashioned teamwork can’t fix.) And while being faithful to the original seems like a requirement for some, fewer things are more spiritually faithful to. He-man than a retro-crafted story from fun action figure designs. Why stick exclusively to the ’80s metal album cover aesthetic – one that’s still circulating through an entirely different show and toy line anyway – when these ideas can also be remixed into using a greater variety of inspirations?

The result is not just an updated look, but an updated set of character dynamics. He-Man is no longer the only chosen savior. Weapons and armor all seem to be linked. And the show is all about one theme: As real heroes know, power is meant to be shared.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premieres on Netflix on September 16.

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