Ben 10 Alien Force: Volume 9 (DVD)

“Do you ever have a plan that doesn’t involve crawling around in the sewers?”

It’s been a rocky year for Ben Tennyson and his pals. They’ve fought to save the Earth from an old enemy, they’ve traversed the galaxy, Kevin has been transformed into a monstrous creature, and more. It now all comes to a conclusion, in which our heroes must once again protect their home world from the villainous Vilgax.

Ben 10 Alien Force comes to a close in this ninth volume, which contains the third part of the third season, which was preceded by four seasons of the original Ben 10. After this, the show will be retooled for a third time, with a new name, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien.

Teenage Ben Tennyson, (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) wields the Omnitrix, a device that allows him to transform into any one of ten super-powered aliens. With his energy-manipulating cousin Gwen (Ashley Johnson, Phenom) and his half-human, half-mineral pal Kevin (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans), Ben keeps the Earth safe from alien invaders, evil sorcerers, and whatever else comes his way.

This episode list can be compiled by arranging the backs of an entire pack of Sumo Slammer cards:

• “Primus”
Ben receives a message from space, stating that the Omnitrix must return to the planet Primus, where the DNA of countless alien species is stored. Seeing this as an opportunity to seize the Omnitrix for his own use, would-be world conqueror Vilgax also shows up on Primus.

• “Above and Beyond”
Four other members of the Alien Force learn that Ben has gone out of control, attacking his grandfather aboard a space station. The heroes-in-training—Alan, Manny, Helen, and Pierce—now have to work together to stop Ben and find out what’s really going on.

• “The Secret of Chromastone”
Ben’s old ally Tetrax arrives from space, forcing Ben to transform into his Chromastone form, and then separating Chromastone from Ben. Chromastone is needed to save a distant world thought destroyed by Vilgax. Vilgax learns of this, and tries to put a stop to it.

• “Vendetta”
Kevin’s past is revealed as he confronts the space criminal responsible for his father’s fate. Ben and Gwen worry that Kevin’s hunger for revenge might push him over the edge.

• “Time Heals”
Gwen travels back in time in the hopes of preventing Kevin’s transformation into a monster. Apparently she’s never seen any of those time travel movies or TV shows where changing the past creates a messed up future, because guess what happens?

• “The Final Battle” parts one and two
Vilgax gains a new partner, Albedo, Ben’s evil twin from the second season episode “Good Copy, Bad Copy.” Albedo has stolen a newer, more advanced version of the Omnitrix, called the Ultimatrix. With Albedo’s help, Vilgax manages to remove the Omnitrix from Ben and use it for himself. Vilgax has his sights set on Earth, and Ben must find a way to save the day without using his powers.

There’s one big problem with this season: inconsistency. At times, it has shown a lot of the wit and excitement that made earlier seasons standout animation and far above the “created just to sell toys” cartoon it appears to be. At other times, the writers have made questionable decisions, failing to build on the character development they’ve already established. This inconsistency continues through the episodes on this disc. There’s so much to enjoy here that the creators’ missteps are all more painful.

At the heart of this whole season has been the conflict between Ben and Vilgax. While Vilgax was an imposing, unstoppable force during the original Ben 10, our hero was only 10 years old at the time. He’s 16 now, and that makes him smarter, wiser, and more independent. He also took down the worldwide conspiracy of the Highbreed, who were as devious as they were physically threatening. Compared to how far Ben has come, bringing back Vilgax feels like a step backward. While the character was once a scary monster, now he’s more of an overgrown thug, always showing up looking for little more than to pick a fight with Ben just for the sake of picking a fight. Even wore, Ben keeps taking out Vilgax without a problem. How do you defeat Vilgax? Just punch him really hard. Vilgax doesn’t become a genuine threat until the two-part season finale, in which he debuts some new technology that adapts the Omnitrix in a new way, and then he shows a new side of himself in the final moments. It’s a little too late, though, and it raises the question of why he didn’t break out this new tech earlier in the season.

As far as Ben goes, the ongoing thread for him has been his overconfidence. All season long, he has believed that there is no threat he can’t handle. When Vilgax first arrived from space to threaten him, Ben not only proclaimed that this would be “no problem,” but then it really was no problem, as Ben has continually wiped the floor with Vilgax. It’s not until the final two-parter that Ben finally gets a lesson in humility. This takes him to his breaking point, but then strengthens him emotionally, and allows him to build up both his courage and his wits as he heads into the final confrontation. That’s genuine character development, and it’s what’s been lacking in Ben throughout this entire season.

Kevin’s journey through this season has been equally inconsistent. At the start, he’s transformed into a grotesque monster. A few episodes have had him dealing with this trauma, but others have had everyone acting like its business as usual. Then, in “Vendetta,” we get a huge episode for Kevin, with a ton of reveals about his past, and a fight with an enemy that has personal stakes. The episode does a good job of building suspense as to whether Kevin will go the distance and kill the guy, or if Kevin will continue to be the hero. Unfortunately, this too ends up being inconsistent. I have to wonder why Kevin’s anguish over becoming a monster wasn’t tied into this plot in some way. Why couldn’t his dealing with his father’s past in some way mirror his feelings over who he has become? Instead, we meet Kevin’s mother for the first time, and she too doesn’t react at all to his appearance. There’s a missed opportunity for some good storytelling that went nowhere.

Despite my many criticisms with the inconsistencies in theme and character, Ben 10 Alien Force continues to provide excellence in the big action scenes. With so many different types of aliens running around, the animators are able to stage all kinds of alien versus alien fighting without it ever feeling repetitive. Other successes on this disc where the Chromastone episode, revealing that the Omnitrix aliens can be used as more than just weapons, and how Ben’s various aliens can be characters on the own. Also, Gwen’s time travel escapade reveals how much she cares about Kevin, despite his transformation. Sadly, the inconsistency kicks in again, because this character trait isn’t followed up on.

• Vilgax has that huge sword strapped to his back, so why does he almost never use it?
• After “The Secret of Chromastone,” Ben is straight-out told that Chromastone is still in the Omnitrix, so why is he so surprised to see Chromastone when he reappears in Ultimate Alien?
• After rewatching “Time Heals,” I have to wonder: Is the “time lost Gwen” still unstuck in time somewhere? You could make that case.

As with the other Ben 10 DVDs, the audio and video are impressive, with bright, eye-popping colors and booming, explosive sound. For extras, we get the first episode of the reboot, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien. The episode establishes the tone of the new series, and lays the groundwork for the arc by introducing a new villain. The question is, will this episode also be included on the eventual Ultimate Alien DVD? If not, that will make it hard for newcomers to get into the show, demanding they purchase both that disc and this one. The only other extra is another “alien database” feature, with text trivia notes about a handful of characters.

This takes us to the end of Ben 10 Alien Force, with two outstanding seasons followed by this mediocre one. Now bring on Aggregor, Will Harangue, and the price of fame in Ultimate Alien!

The Verdict

This one’s for diehard Ben 10 fans only.

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