When you need a superhero, he gets the job done.
In this second volume of Ben 10 Omniverse, viewers have had a chance to get used to the characters’ redesigns, the new aliens, and the many other changes to this now long-running franchise. That means we can settle in focus on the story at hand, but is the story worth it?
Teenage Ben Tennyson (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) wields the Omnitrix, a device that allows him to transform into a variety of superpowered aliens. Now working full-time for the secret interstellar peacekeeping force known as the Plumbers, Ben and his new partner Rook (Bumper Robinson, Futurama) protect the Earth from evil.
This episode list conforms to all know Plumber regulations:
• “Of Predators and Prey” parts one and two—Ben and Rook have one argument too many and call it quits on the whole partnership thing, just in time for alien hunter Khyber to attack.
• “Outbreak”—The evil Dr. Psychobos attempts to steal a piece of the Omnitrix, causing chaos at Plumber headquarters.
• “Blukic and Driba go to Mr. Smoothy’s”—While Ben is battling bad guys, the comic relief guys from Plumber headquarters are off on an adventure of their own.
• “Malefactor”—Ben again faces off with Khyber at the county fair, and more about villain Malware is revealed.
• “Bros in Space”—A visit to Rook’s home world has Ben seeing his partner in a new light.
• “Arrested Development”—An old enemy of Ben’s, one he didn’t even know he had, transforms Ben back into a little kid. GOB Bluth and Tobias Fünke do not have cameos.
• “Rules of Engagement”—Time for relationship woes as Ben’s old girlfriend Julie (Vyvan Pham) is back in town, as is an alien princess who claims she’s Ben’s betrothed.
• “Showdown” parts one and two—Ben and Rook face off against three foes at once, Khyber, Malware, and Dr. Psychobos. The key to defeating them rests with Feedback, an alien form Ben hasn’t transformed into since he was a kid. Whatever happened to Feedback?
By my count, this is the twenty-fourth home video release for Ben 10, with four TV series, two animated made-for-TV movies, and two live action made-for-TV movies. I do believe franchise fatigue has set in. While the creators are putting forth an admirable effort in attempt to mix things up, I can’t help but feel that the show has peaked.
While he spent most of the last volume lurking in the shadows, this time around Khyber makes his presence known in a big way. His gimmick is that he has a device to rival the Omnitrix, summoning the natural predators of each of Ben’s aliens. It’s a fun idea, except that these predator aliens are uninteresting, basically a series of giant dinosaur-like monsters. With the predators, the action scenes are reduced to the same series of punches and/or laser blasts over and over. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Ben 10 is how all the different alien forms meant the action never felt repetitive, but this time it does.
I maintain that Rook is not a bad character, it’s just that not enough is being done with him. By now he and Ben have a begrudging respect for each other, so what little initial dramatic tension they had has deflated. The running joke is that Rook is unfamiliar with common Earth expressions, and always takes them literally. It really isn’t enough to hang an entire character on. Plus, for all his supposed skills, in most action scenes Rook’s shtick is merely to run up and fire his laser gun a few times.
Ben, similarly, suffers from not enough being done with him. In previous series, the Omnitrix had a number of limitations, which meant he often had to think his way out of a crisis, rather than merely punch his way out. By now, though, he’s powered up considerably, so that it’s really about the fighting. There is still the ongoing gag of the Omnitrix not giving Ben the alien he wants, but he’s clearly learned to adapt to that by now. His overconfidence sometimes gets him in trouble, but this too is something that the show’s viewers have already seen several times.
Do all my complaints mean this volume is horrible? No, it has its good points. “Bros In Space” provides some much-needed character development for Rook, as we explore his home world and meet his family. “Rules of Engagement” is a relatively more grounded episode, with a return to Ben’s home life and his rarely-seen parents. It’s one of the few times Ben 10 Omniverse has shown the characters living their ordinary lives when not “on the job” fighting aliens. The two-part finale reveals that this season’s many flashbacks to Ben of the original series has a purpose, setting up the alien Feedback, and a mystery as to what happened to it, and how that is related to the evil Malware. It’s a nice example of foreshadowing that doesn’t come off like foreshadowing.
The video and audio on this two-disc set continues to be good, with bright, vivid colors, and booming sound during the action. As with previous releases, the only extra is a text-based “Alien Database” feature you navigate with your remote.
I don’t enjoy leveling so much criticism toward this series. The creators are really pushing to try new things, and yet none of it feels especially new. I’m not a TV producer; I don’t know what direction the show s ghould take, but I don’t believe this direction is the way to go.