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Transformers Needs Its Own ‘Masters Of The Universe: Revelation’ Reinvention

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Transformers Needs Its Own ‘Masters Of The Universe: Revelation’ Reinvention

Enough time has passed. The final chapter of Netflix's War for Cybertron Transformers trilogy, Kingdom, Kingdom, has been on the service since July 29 - and the same platform's Masters of the Universe reboot, Revelation, since July 23. Spoilers will follow - so if you're not okay with that, you know what to do: literally click anywhere else.

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I'm a Transformers liker. I think that's been made clear enough on these pages, but ICYMI, here's some previous work. Prior to Netflix's Kingdom series came Siege and Earthrise, the latter, middle chapter airing (streaming) in late 2020 and, as I wrote here, it proved to be an incredibly flawed love letter to the 1980s franchise and everything that came with it: comics, cartoons, a movie, and toys of course. What Earthrise did achieve, however, was a tickle of excitement for what would come next. Kingdom meant the shape-shifting sentient robots, the Autobots and Decepticons, arriving on our planet and, as the very final scenes of Earthrise showed us, a run-in with the characters of the Transformers' Beast Wars sub-series.

Watch the official trailer for Transformers: War For Cybertron - Kingdom, below...

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Beast Wars was where a lot of '90s kids got on board with Transformers, and while it never meant anything to me, I can really feel the love a lot of people have for it. Kingdom rolls out... ahem, maximises the likes of Optimus Primal, Blackarachnia, Airazor, Rhinox, Dinobot and the T-Rex-shaped Megatron who isn't the gun/tank original Decepticon leader, and has them run about largely in service of the older, more 'classically' proportioned characters who came before them, and their MacGuffin-chasing nonsense. Dinobot is heroic, Blackarachnia deceptive, Airazor committed, and Megatron really weirdly voiced... And then the show ends.

Kingdom is pretty darn terrible. Its plot is sluggish, its action limp, its CGI models painfully stiff, and the voice direction is atrocious. Neither Earthrise nor Siege before it were good Transformers shows, but this is perhaps the nadir of the trilogy - albeit only because the promise of it was so good, but the execution of the ideas that swill around the show, across six episodes, was so disastrously bad.

Transformers: War for Cybertron - Kingdom / Credit: Netflix
Transformers: War for Cybertron - Kingdom / Credit: Netflix
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There have been good Transformers shows in the past. The similarly CGI Beast Wars of the mid-1990s is much loved. Transformers Prime, which began in 2010, attracted plenty of affection and critical acclaim. Most recently, Cyberverse has shown that a kids show can have plenty of adult appeal, mixing nostalgic favourites with long-running mythology but giving everything a bright, colourful presentation that really grabs the eyeballs.

Kingdom has none of this. It is dour. It is gloomy. It is dull. Its main protagonists and antagonists are boring (okay, Starscream gets a pass... Starscream always gets a pass). Its plot is tangled and twisted so much as to be incomprehensible. High stakes are explained with all the drama and tension of watching paint dry. When the 'bots and 'cons come to blows, it's just like a child smashing plastic figures into one another - there's no spark (lol), no real sign that any of this matters. It's a dangerous comparison to make, but when you watch The Transformers: The Movie, an animated picture that came out in 1986, 35 years ago, there's greater on-screen energy in any randomly selected 30-second burst than we see across almost three hours of Kingdom. (It is duly noted that TF:TM had a budget of six million dollars, in 1986 money, whereas I'm pretty sure Netflix's show... hasn't.)

Watch the official trailer for Masters of the Universe: Revelation, below...

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It didn't have to be like this. Netflix itself has a fantastic example of how to revive a hugely popular 1980s kids franchise and modernise it so that today's children and their parents alike can enjoy it. Six days prior to Kingdom, Masters of the Universe: Revelation debuted, a five-episode series (another five episodes are coming later in 2021, maybe 2022) that served as both a direct continuation of the cartoon that ran from 1983 to 1985 and a focused, confident reboot of the source material.

With Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma) as its showrunner, and featuring a cast of well-known talents like Mark Hamill, Lena Headey and Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Revelation is, in my opinion, a terrific success. Where Kingdom dragged its heels, Revelation broke into a sprint. Where Kingdom's battles were playing out in half-speed, Revelation's were breathless, flecked with sweat and blood and fury. Where Kingdom's animation was drab, Revelation's tears off the screen and sears your retinas. I really like it a lot, is what I'm saying.

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Masters of the Universe: Revelation / Credit: Netflix
Masters of the Universe: Revelation / Credit: Netflix

And look, I understand why some people haven't enjoyed Revelation. If you slide over to Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see the show has, at the time of writing, an audience score of 37% (that's up from 33%, when Wikipedia logged the response), beside a critical rating of 96%. It experienced a wave of, ahem, reviewing bombing, largely from viewers who felt cheated somehow, because both He-Man and Skeletor, the iconic hero and villain of the MOTU franchise respectively, are seemingly killed off in the very first episode. Look, I warned you there'd be spoilers. But, guys, please: where does it say, He-Man and Skeletor: Revelations? Exactly.

Kevin Smith spoke out, and fair play to him, frankly. In an interview with Variety, he addressed the 'fan' criticism of He-Man and Skeletor's limited screen time (they pop up a lot across the five episodes, despite their 'deaths'), saying: "I see people online go, 'Hey man, they're getting rid of He-Man.' Like, you really f*cking think Mattel Television, who hired me and paid me money, wants to do a f*cking Masters of the Universe show without He-Man? Grow the f*ck up, man. Like, that blew my mind, bunch of people being like, 'Oh, I smell it. This is a bait and switch.'"

Smith's story puts Sarah Michelle Gellar's Teela, a prominent companion of He-Man's in the 1980s show and surrounding media, at the forefront of proceedings; and she allies with Lena Headey's Evil Lyn to prevent all the magic of Eternia from vanishing, and thus destroying the universe. Both are strongly written, as three-dimensional as such two-dimensional avatars can be, with their hopes and dreams and fears exposed consistently - and there's a place in the main cast for a previously bit-part MOTU character, too, in the shape of Teela's female friend Andra. Wow, a whole three women, in the main cast of a new show based on an old franchise that has been largely remembered for muscly guys punching skull-faced goons into next week's episode? No wonder the audience reviews went the way they did, huh?

Masters of the Universe: Revelation / Credit: Netflix
Masters of the Universe: Revelation / Credit: Netflix

Smith commented to Variety: "I know there's some people that are like, 'Hey, man, this show's woke.' I'm like, all right, great, then so was the original cartoon we're f*cking sequel-izing. Go watch it again. There are girls in every episode. Deal with it." He's right: it feels like He-Man's own old-show-closing comments on being a better person, on respecting others, on collaboration and cooperation, have been lost to the years, internet complainers failing to remember how it was rarely He-Man alone who saved the day back in the early '80s.

And besides, this has nothing to do with being 'woke'. It's about being good. What Revelation achieves is freshness, in its plot, its art, its whole attitude to Masters of the Universe. It truly has reinvigorated the franchise, and coming so soon off the back of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power makes for further evidence that what used to be a toys-first-shows-second approach to marketing to kids can actually spawn compelling, exciting, enjoyable television. Revelation and She-Ra were shows I could watch and share with my two sons, and we all came away pleased.

Transformers: War for Cybertron - Kingdom / Credit: Netflix
Transformers: War for Cybertron - Kingdom / Credit: Netflix

The War for Cybertron trilogy was... Well, it was there, and the toys that have come out with it are genuinely good (still waiting for my Galvatron to ship like, wtf), but it's left Transformers in a funk. Kingdom wasn't for the '80s-loving, G1-collecting me, nor was it for the Beast Wars fans, nor was it for the live-action Bayverse stans, nor was it for today's kids - it was a catastrophe caught between audiences and properly respecting none of them. But, I still believe.

Give me a bright, vibrant, swift-of-pace and passionate of heart Transformers series, and I shall embrace it like I can't Kingdom. Lean on G1, lean on IDW, call again upon the Beast Wars and stir in some Unicron Trilogy. Please, don't make it this deathly dull, Minecraft-blocky CGI. I'm here for something that dazzles, something that cares, like Masters of the Universe: Revelation so clearly does. Transformers has sustained for nearly 40 years in a way few brands have, reformatting itself every few years and laying down new roots with new fans. It can do it... It just can't be like Kingdom, again.

Featured Image Credit: Netflix

Topics: Opinion, Netflix, TV, transformers

Mike Diver
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