Ben 10: Alien Force is the second TV show in the “Ben Ten” franchise. The original series ran for five production cycles, or about 3 years, and “Alien Force” is set five years later.
Whereas the original show was an open-ended series of more-or-less standalone adventures, this one was conceived of as a two-season arc series. It ended tonight. While the B-10 franchise certainly isn’t hardcore science fiction by any stretch of the imagination, it’s pulpy genre goodness has always been there in the fringes, and the “Alien Force” series pushed that much further in to SF end of the Superhero spectrum. Which is to say that while it is at root just another goofy superhero romp , it’s increasingly wrapped up in the science fictional aspects of superherodom.
While not high art by any stretch of the imagination, the franchise has always been way better than it had any right to be, and I get a kick out of watching it. I’d have reviewed it before now, but Cartoon Network pulled a Sci-Fi channel and broke the 13-episode second season up in to two blocks, with three months of dead air in between. There hasn’t actually been a new episode on TV since there’s been a Republibot on the web.
Tonight they did a mini-marathon leading up to the finale, so I figured I’d review the whole batch here.
BEN 10: ALIEN FORCE: “Birds of a Feather” (Season 2, episode 10)
Called out to what’s obviously a trap, Team Tennison gets wailed on by DNAliens and rescued by a passing Arachnidape named “Sim.” Sim claims to be a prince from another planet who needs a special gem to free his planet from a military dictatorship and reclaim the throne. He enlists Ben and the others to help him, and they go to a fortress on the moon to recover the artifact. Eventually it turns out that Sim is working for the bad guys and the “Moon Fortress” is actually a Plumber communications center, and pulling the Gem from the communications array means Earth can’t call for help when the Highbreed invade earth. Ben figures this out ahead of time and pulls a switcheroo which save the day and permanently disfigures the alien agent. OBSERVATIONS:
A pretty good episode with one or two good Kevin lines and one really inexplicably funny scene of him looking around while suspiciously chewing gum. The plot is a fairly standard guest star doublecross, but they drop a number of subtle clues throughout that Sim isn’t what he appears. None of these are obvious enough to blow the surprise, which works nicely. While the voice cast on this show has always been good, Dietrich Bader as “Sim” completely makes this episode. He’s got just the level of believable pathos and nervousness and hope to make us understand exactly why Ben would trust him - you just want to like him based on the way he sounds. The spin he puts on it in the final scene is nice too, when we hear Sim in somewhat more casual surroundings, and realize that the character has been playing up his innocence, using his voice as a weapon. Between this and the new Batman series - Bader is the voice of Batman - I’m really impressed with the guy.
BEN 10: ALIEN FORCE: “Unearthed” (Season 2, Episode 11)
DNAliens are mining for quartz and find a big alien object, which they try to destroy. A big ugly monster comes out of the ship and cripples their operation, then goes around town stealing shiny objects. Team Tennyson turns up to take down the monster and a fight ensues until Gwen realizes the monster is actually an alien baby girl. They help her get back to the buried alien ship, rescue her parents, and escape, destroying the DNAlien mining operation in the process.
OBSERVATIONS: Kind of a week episode, really, mainly because co-producer Glenn Murakami used pretty much this same alien-monster-is-really-an-innocent-baby hook in Teen Titans several years ago. This episode lets us know the DNAliens need quartz, and also mentions that Professor Paradox’s disastrous experiment in 1952 is what caused the aliens to crash on earth and get trapped underground, but as continuity porn, that’s kind of a ‘so what?’ The fight with the monster is retroactively rendered cringe-inducing by the realization that she’s a toddler, though Gwen gets her best line in the entire series out of this one when she notes the monster is a girl. When asked why she things that, she says “You guys really weren’t paying attention in health class, were you?
BEN 10: ALIEN FORCE: “War of the Worlds” (Season 2, Episodes 12 and 13)
The Highbreed attack Galvan, the planet of the Grey Matter species. Paradox the time traveler turns up and rescues Azimuth, the inventor of the Omnitrix. They come to earth to warn Team Ben that the alien invasion of earth that’s been brewing for two seasons now will mean the extinction of humanity (Well, Duh.) Azimuth doesn’t want Ben to fight to save the planet because the Omnitrix is in reality a kind of Noah’s Ark, allowing the reconstitution of the ten million various galactic species who’s DNA is locked inside it. If Ben dies and the Omnitrix is lost, then all those speices are lost as well. Meanwhile, Kevin and Gwen go about reconstituting the Team Tennyson Irregulars, essentially all the recurring cast from the series: the Heatblast kid, Julie, Ship, Cooper, Mike Morningstar, and Paradox. Meanwhile Azimuth relents and gives Ben full control of the omnitrix (He’s been restricted to only 10 aliens in this series), and can now access any of the physical forms stored in it. They attack the Highbreed HQ, which is located at the abandoned Los Soledad army base outside of town, and a big battle ensues during which Ben uses several of his “Old” aliens from the original show (Upchuck, Cannonbolt, and Waybig) to shut down the jumpgate before it switches on and lets the Highbreed fleet through. They fail, and the armada comes through. End part 1. In part two, they decided to attack the alien command tower in Los Soledad and force the Highbreed Commander to call off the attack. This they then do, but the local base commander laughs at them and points out that he has no control over the fleet, the *Supreme* commander is back on their homeworld. Meanwhile, DNAliens get the drop on them, but Grandpa Max and the alien kids that were working for him in the Nulvoid show up and turn the tables. Ben, Gwen, Kevin, Azimuth, and Ship go through the jumpgate to the Highbreed homeworld, which is essentially a decrepit slum. They contact the Supreme Council of the Highbreed who immediately start going on about how inferior humanity et al are, but Azimuth calls them on it and says the war isn’t about racial purity, it’s actually about genocide and sour grapes: The Highbreed were so obsessed with racial purity for such a long time that they managed to inbreed to the point that they’re sterile, and this is the last generation of their species. The council admits this, but they say they won’t die alone and they have fleets on every known world in the galaxy. They plan to blow up every planet just like they did Galvan. Ben realizes the solution isn’t to fight, but to fix the Highbreed, so uses the Deus Ex Machina setting on the Omnitrix to “Cure” them. They’re all randomly infused with alien DNA that patches up their various shortcomings, and cures their sterility, but makes them mongrels. Just like Team Tennyson. The council is outraged by what’s happened to their species, but then Reinrassig III, whom Ben did the same thing to about 10 episodes earlier shows up and convinces them they can live that way, it’s not so bad to be impure. The war is over, peace reigneth supreme. Paradox shows up and takes the good guys home, and Azimuth essentially hobbles the omnitrix again so Ben only has access to ten aliens again, but not the same ones as before. “Aw, man, I don’t recognize any of these guys!”
The kids and I were taking bets today on how the series finale would run, and Man were we off. We figured Ben would attack Los Soledad, loose, use Alien X to get a do-over, and then win because they brought in all the recurring characters to help. Usually we’re pretty close, but man, we were nowhere near.
I am surprised that Alien X didn’t show up again. It’s interesting that he was essentially a red herring for the series. There’s a couple really good reveals in here: The Omnitrix as Noah’s Ark; The Highbreed’s impending extinction; Their war on life itself. All those were “ooooh!” moments, though the ‘Noah’ one is undercut somewhat by Azimuth’s easy resignation to letting Ben go in to battle after all.
It was really nice to see some of the old aliens again, though Upchuck looked a lot different. The scene of Waybig falling over was very nicely done.
Although Paradox - who in his previous episode was clearly intended as a Doctor Who analog - doesn’t actually *Do* too much in this episode, aside from moral support and a convenient means of transport, I find I don’t mind. The character adds something to the show, and I just like having him around. Part of that is that I simply enjoy having a wizened, enigmatic, somewhat detached character around all these teenagers, and part of it is that I just really like listening to David McCallum speak.
Speaking of voices, I was a bit confused as to whether Wil Wheaton was still doing the voice of Darkstar or not. Ultimately I decided he was, but he speaks in a lower register with a somewhat more weathered delivery than the last time I saw the character. From starting out as a bit of what appeared to me as stuntcasting on Teen Titans (He had a recurring role as Aqualad), he’s actually become a pretty accomplished voice actor. I remember him saying that voice acting as a career was a pretty hard secret handshake to learn. I’m glad he stayed with it. Way to go, Wil.
Was *Anybody* surprised when Team Max showed up again? Anyone? I thought not.
I’m wondering: the Hyperspace transportation dealie the Highbreed have been working on for 26 episodes is repeatedly called a “Jumpgate” in this episode, and after one mention of “Jumpgate” there’s a prominent line about “Holding the line.” Is this a hidden Babylon 5 nod? Of course the explanation of how these Jumpgates work has more in common with the Stargates from the various Stargate shows than the Jumpgates from B5, but still….(Man that was an awkward sentence). Could be a reference to B5, or to both B5 and Stargate, or neither, frankly. It’s late and I’m tired and my accelerated geekitude is running away with me.
Should I ever get the chance to interview Dwayne McDuffie, I’ll ask him, but for now let’s wrap this up On the whole, “Alien Force” was a good series. It took a goofy adventure series with a razor-thin premise and turned it in to a surprisingly serviceable ‘tween franchise. Though I miss the bright, sunny animation of the original series, this was a much better show all around, and despite the weird treatment by the network it seems to have maintained enough popularity that there’s yet another spinoff in the works. “Ben 10: Evolutions” is scheduled to air in the fall, and is set a year after the events of the finale. http://www.newsarama.com/comics/030925-Cartoon-Upfront.html I liked the show, and I’m looking forward to more.
[NOTE: After this was written, an unexpected third season of Alien Force was comissioned. The actual real series finale aired on 3.25/10]