‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’: Netflix proposes a youthful, futuristic and frantic new version of the franchise
The controversial reception towards the excellent animated series of ‘Masters of the Universe’ supervised by Kevin Smith, which has led to a total revaluation of the franchise, with new lines of toys and a renewed interest from less exquisite fans, has not stopped Netflix. Just a couple of months later, the platform presents a new He-Man series, with a more youthful aesthetic that sends the characters to a futuristic environment.
Science fiction has never been completely alien to the saga, not even since its toy origins in the eighties. Although the obvious reference of the Masters of the Universe was Conan, that reference was spiced with vehicles, laser weapons, armor and futuristic technology, and it all took place on an alien planet, halfway between the feudal regime and the delicatessen retrotechnological. Some spinoffs from the original animated series, like the now completely cult Cannon movie from 1987, exploited that alien-medieval technology and embraced the concept that the Masters of the Universe were extraterrestrial beings … even if they looked like bodybuilders.
The connection between the Masters and science fiction was reinforced in 1990 with the series ‘The New Adventures of He-Man’, conceived to relaunch the line of dolls, whose classic incarnation had ended in toy stores. In this interesting new version, with a more youthful than childish approach, a less burly He-Man faced a cadaverous Skeletor on the future planet Primus. The series, which included dozens of new characters, tried to maintain some continuity with the classic series, but ended up being a failure that relegated it to oblivion.
The franchise would enter a hiatus from which it would come out with the new century, but this sci-fi orientation of the early nineties would not separate entirely from the franchise, although it is now when it returns with unusual strength. Co-written by Bryan Q. Miller (Smallville) and made by Canadian studio House of Cool (collaborators on a multitude of recent CGI animated series and films), this new ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ allows Netflix to continue experimenting with diverse and very free approaches to this IP.
He got the power
Eternia is on this occasion Eternals, a kingdom where both ancient magic and cutting-edge technology exist., and where Prince Adam is a teenager who has lost his memory and lives with a tribe outside the city. Until a sword of power leads him and a series of allies (his friend Krass, his tiger Cringer, the repentant villain Duncan, and the thief and sorceress Teela) to become Masters of the Universe. They will have to protect the mystical Castle of Grayskull from Adam’s uncle, Keldor – future Skeletor – and his henchmen, Evelyn and Kronis, among others.
That is, we have a story that only schematically respects the lines of the series and the original toys, but where everything is perfectly recognizable. Unlike Kevin Smith’s more dramatic vision, here we only have action and more action at an insane pace and very well executed: each half-hour episode is practically a carousel of fights and risky sequences that prevents boredom, even if the total absence of violence makes it an absolutely white series with a decaffeinated point.
And yet the scripts are self-aware enough, bordering on parody, that hunting winks is an extremely enjoyable activity for the seasoned adult in the franchise’s mythology. The details that define how the characters will be transformed into future Masters (from the iron jaw of Kronis to the helmet of Krass) or a multitude of details of bad humor (Grayskull looks like a lot more than a castle … and the characters do not stop commenting) are there to entertain the taller audience. That and also how boring conventions are avoided, from the betrayal of He-Man’s uncle – which, by the way, is traditional canon of the franchise – to the discovery of the powers.
Among the most questionable of the series is the redesign of the characters, very lucky at times (Skeletor is spectacular, as are villains in general … and heroes somewhat less) and the script decision that the Masters retain their youthful and innocent demeanor while still having powers. It’s a minor detail, as it will undoubtedly help the younger audience to identify with the characters. And the rest, like the controversies about whether an African-American Teela is appropriate or that Ram-Man is now Ram Ma’am (magnificent twist, one would say that with the sole intention of touching noses), are things that only matter to the Adults. Every time less.