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Why Netflix's Masters of the Universe He-Man Series Is So Controversial

Kevin Smith's Masters of the Universe: Revelation has proved surprisingly divisive. Kevin Smith is very much a self-confessed fanboy, and when he was approached to produce a Masters of the Universe revival he didn't want to reinvent He-Man. "Our manifest was to be fanservicey," Smith insisted. "I would not be the guy you’d tap to reinvent something. But if you want to keep it going lovingly, true to the franchise and just growing up the characters a little bit so their conversations are a little more adult-oriented? [I’m your guy.]"

And yet, as "fanservicey" as Smith may have aimed to be, the fact remains that his Masters of the Universe: Revelation has been deeply divisive. The show has been review-bombed on Rotten Tomatoes; at the time of writing its audience score is still just at 33 percent, contrasting with a more impressive 95 percent critic score. Something about the He-Man revival just doesn't seem to be resonating with every aspect of its fanbase, leading to outrage.

Related: Masters Of The Universe: Revelation Cast & Character Guide

The irony is that Smith had previously claimed he didn't want to reinvent He-Man because he felt the franchise was too well-loved, and doing so would lead to exactly the kind of reaction he's getting anyway. So why is Masters of the Universe: Revelation so controversial - and is any of this controversy justified?

The problems begin with the marketing, which centered upon the idea He-Man was returning after decades of absence on the small screen. Trailers suggested this was a straightforward continuation of the original series, with the most powerful man in the universe standing front and center. But attentive viewers would have noticed He-Man wasn't actually named in the revival show's title, suggesting he wouldn't be quite as key a player as they thought. According to Smith, the title "Masters of the Universe: Revelation" actually refers to Teela's character journey. She learns that Prince Adam is actually He-Man in the most heartbreaking manner possible, seeing him sacrifice himself in an ill-fated attempt to save Eternia.

All this means the first five episodes of Smith's He-Man revival are remarkably short of action scenes starring He-Man himself - and that's something the viewers weren't prepared for, based on the marketing. One reason for the controversy, then, is that there has been a dramatic mismatch between the marketing and the actual product, leading to people going in expecting something very different from what they were getting.

It doesn't help that the baton is passed to Teela in the most shocking way possible, when He-Man sacrifices his life. Thematically, He-Man's death is at the core of Smith's attempt to create a show that's a little more adult, and it allows him to have his characters deal with the messy grief he excels at so much. But, to the fans, he's killed off one of their childhood heroes in order to focus on the supporting characters - the childhood hero whose continuing adventures they were so excited about watching, no less. Making matters worse, Masters of the Universe: Revelation season 1 ends with Prince Adam returning - only to apparently be killed again. Even worse, because he chose to leave Eternia's version of Heaven, he no longer has a home in the afterlife to look forward to.

Related: Masters Of The Universe Pokes Fun At He-Man's Original Cartoon Problem

Speaking to Variety, Wood had insisted He-Man isn't really gone. "I see people online go, ‘Hey man, they’re getting rid of He-Man!'" Wood fumed. "Like, you really ****ing think Mattel Television, who hired me and paid me money, wants to do a ****ing ‘Masters of the Universe’ show without He-Man? Grow the **** up, man. Like, that blew my mind, bunch of people being like, ‘Oh, I smell it. This is a bait and switch.'" The problem is, though, that the fifth episode really doesn't feel as though Adam is still alive - simply because of the scale of the injury he's suffered, which looks decidedly fatal, and the details about the afterlife feel as though they're intended to seal his fate. Bluntly, viewers can be forgiven for believing He-Man really is dead, and reacting emotionally to this shocking and unexpected twist.

Finally, it doesn't help that Masters of the Universe: Revelation really doesn't feel like a continuation of the original series. All the characters are there, but Smith's attempt to make a more mature He-Man series means he's somehow missed the heart of the franchise. The original He-Man & the Masters of the Universe may not have been the best animated series in history, but it was marked by a certain degree of naïve optimism. In contrast, Masters of the Universe: Revelation is almost relentlessly bleak. The main plot is driven by the death of He-Man, the theme is an exploration of messy grief, and the conclusion sees Skeletor ascend to become Skelegod while Adam is left critically wounded.

It's possible part of the problem with Masters of the Universe: Revelation is simply that it has come out at the wrong time because the real world has been quite bleak enough for the last 18 months. Old-school fans could be forgiven for having anticipated He-Man as a potential escape from this, and then tuned in to find something that felt far grimmer than they'd expected. Of course, technically the story is only halfway through, with season 2 set to feature rematch fights between He-Man and Skeletor. But the first half's conclusion, intended to raise the stakes, may well have simply made people decide this wasn't the He-Man story they wanted to watch right now, and it remains to be seen whether audiences will tune in for the next season.

There is a sad irony to Masters of the Universe: Revelation, in that Kevin Smith is a fanboy first and foremost - and yet he has managed to launch a revival that has proved far more controversial than he'd expected it to be. Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a love letter to the original series, with countless Easter eggs and returning characters, but sadly it just hasn't quite hit the right note with fans.

More: What To Expect From Masters Of The Universe: Revelation Season 2

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