Netflix’s latest attempt at the He-Man IP sacrifices interesting innovation for toyetic changes.
Netflix is trying really, maybe embarrassingly hard to make He-Man a thing again. With He-Man and the Masters of the Universe their throw-toys-at-the-wall-until-something-sticks approach is genuinely starting to wear out the patience of new and old fans alike.
After the explosive success of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power—which wisely concluded its 52-episode run last year on a high note—Netflix turned to two new series set within the “Masters of the Cinematic Universe,” if we’re being cute. This time out, the focus lands on the fundamental origins and mechanics that started it all, namely a big lug with a sword and his amazing friends.
To Netflix’s credit, the other He-Man show they put out less than two months ago, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, took its fair share of swings. Picking up some time after the main events of the original cartoon—no, not the Toonami one that many fans today owe as their entry point into the franchise—it advanced the stories and struggles of its entire ensemble. It even repositioned the main character of the entire canon to someone who isn’t He-Man. Now, that’s bold.
By contrast, the lazily named He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (as if we don’t have enough shows with this title) resets to basics. It’s the same old Prince Adam story, albeit with significant tweaks to the animation and overall aesthetic. For instance, Masters does pick up with a version of Adam who doesn’t even know he’s a prince. Teela, this time around, is a loner with magical tech powers (or something) Instead of Man-at-Arms, we get a comic-relief who wishes he was Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender. None of those alterations is to the show’s benefit, unfortunately.
To be clear, young kids of a certain age will find this new show distracting enough, but it’s not exactly the most enticing, fan-generating approach to the material. Far more than previous revamps of the long-running mythology, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe devotes its entire theory of being toy commercial potential.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is easily more cringe than any incarnation of Cringer thus far.
See, Prince Adam isn’t the only character this time around with the power of Grayskull. After a snail’s pace of episodes slowly building up to what feels like a single encounter over about an hour, the entire gang gets sizable power-ups and transformations because why not? It is one of the show’s rare attempts at beefing up the narrative with something a little fresh. Might as well go the Power Rangers/Sailor Moon route, after all, when you’re not innovating elsewhere.
The real trouble is in how these so-called Masters of the Universe look more like cheap imitations of Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia. Or Transformers: Prime. Or Storm Hawks. Maybe even Fortnite, as if we deserve nothing less. Even getting past the expectedly rote dialogue and paper-thin characterizations He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is easily more cringe than any incarnation of Cringer thus far. That’s saying something.
After the jolt to the system that is Revelation’s striking, hand-drawn art style and challenging probes into the wondrous implications of a place like Eternia existing and functioning as an authentic setting at the center of the universe where technology and magic collide, going here truly boggles the mind. Why just paste World of Warcraft skin on the same old He-Man story?
Netflix should seriously commit to just one He-Man property at a time. Give it time enough to generate attention and fan devotion. Allow the artists and animators to get their due praise for all the effort onscreen.
Granted, it’s not as if this new He-Man show looks terrible or hastily put together. It’s easy to imagine a show like this working and fitting its niche just fine with a new IP shed of all the He-Man baggage it takes on unnecessarily. But even grading it on the typical, Saturday-morning-cartoon curve, it lacks in almost every department, except for, maybe, its earnestness.
And ultimately, that’s what the kids will respond to more than anything when they accidentally tap the thumbnail while trying to scroll to the right, but are too lazy to back out once the rock intro that sounds like it belongs back in 2007 gets going. Even if the show they’re watching is, ironically, a master of nothing, even its own universe.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is currently hoisting its sword skyward on Netflix.