Long-time fans of He-Man are up in arms about the new Netflix original series Masters of the Universe: Revelation, and showrunner Kevin Smith thinks he knows why. Smith was hired to revive the beloved animated franchise for the adult audience that grew up with it. In the process of trying to make the story more epic than ever, Smith enraged some of those fans on social media.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation hit Netflix on July 23 to generally positive reviews from critics, but within hours it began getting "review-bombed" by angry fans on social media and on aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes. In an interview with Variety, Smith and other members of the creative team speculated about why, sharing the story of how the revival came to be made in the first place. Fair warning: to get the scoop you will need to read major spoilers for Masters of the Universe: Revelation Part 1.
The shocking twist of the new version of the series is that the titular hero Prince Adam — aka He-Man — seems to die in the first episode, along with the main villain Skeletor. The five episodes that have been released so far center around He-Man's friends and comrades trying to restore order in his absence before finally finding a way to bring him back to the world of Eternia. Smith said that this dramatic twist was added in an effort to give the show real stakes, which he felt the 1980s original was always lacking.
"I almost hate-watched it, because I was like, 'This show's for babies,'" Smith recalled of watching Masters of the Universe when he was a teenager. "They have one of the baddest-ass villains in history, Skeletor, visually incredible, and all they did was somersault and not really fight. Nobody ever got stabbed. But it was the '80s, so you watched everything that was on."
Smith said that Mattel Television's vice president of content creative Rob David and Netflix's director of original series Ted Biaselli were the ones who talked him into doing the revival with a tantalizing pitch. They said that the show must be a direct sequel to the 1980s original, but this time written, directed and animated to target the now-adult audience who grew up on the franchise. That meant it would no longer be free of blood, violence or even death. To Smith, this meant that the heroic fantasy world of Eternia could finally reach its full potential.
"[Biaselli's] like, 'I yearn to watch the show I thought I was watching in childhood. That's what I'm looking for here, the same show, but people can die. Can you do that?'" Smith recalled. "And I was like, 'That's the only thing I can do.'"
Some fans and critics felt that the show achieved this task, but others fixated on more surface-level aspects of it. Out of the other characters who take center stage in He-Man's absence, many fans are furious to see Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in a leading role. They have interpreted this as a political stunt to replace He-Man in his own show with a newly ret-conned feminine hero.
Smith scoffed at this complaint and mocked those viewers for thinking that he would really use the He-Man branding as a backdoor for a more obscure hero. He also pointed out that He-Man still makes plenty of appearances in flashbacks and, of course, in the fifth episode. Meanwhile, David predicted that those fans will be more than satisfied when Part 2 of the series eventually drops.
For now, He-Man fans are faced with the first real stakes that their hero has ever dealt with, some believe. Masters of the Universe: Revelation is streaming now on Netflix.