Generator Rex: Volume One (DVD)

Make way and start the revolution!

From Man of Action, the creators of Ben 10 and underrated comic books like Godland, comes the new Cartoon Network series Generator Rex, offering sci-fi/superhero/monster action. So make way and let’s start the revolution!

Five years ago, an unexplained event flooded the entire world with nanotechnology. The presence of the nanites changed the world overnight in many ways. One notable way is that once in a while, ordinary folks become possessed by the nanites and transform into bloodthirsty monsters called evos. When this happens, clandestine government agency Providence shows up on the scene to save the day. Providence’s secret weapon is 15-year-old Rex (Darryl Sabara, Spy Kids), who lost his memory at the time of the event. For unknown reasons, Rex can control the nanites in his body, using them to his advantage, allowing him to transform his body into weapons and vehicles. He can also communicate with computers and machines, and, most importantly, he can heal evos, turning them back into humans. At Providence, Rex is backed up by no-nonsense Agent Six (Wally Kurth), the astonishingly sexy Dr. Holiday (Grey DeLisle), and wisecracking chimp with an eyepatch Bobo Haha (John DiMaggio, Futurama). Rex longs for a normal life, one with partying, fun, and friends his own age. Unfortunately, his life is one of battling monsters and following orders. What’s a superhuman teenage secret agent to do?

This episode list is flowing through your bloodstream right now:

• “The Day That Changed Everything”
Frustrated with life at Providence, Rex meets Noah (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years) a normal guy he can be friends with, but one who has a secret of his own. Rex then meets Van Kleiss (Troy Baker), a sinister man who has a vampire-like thirst for nanites and who might have info about Rex’s past.

• “String Theory”
If Rex is unable to heal an evo, does the evo have to be killed? That’s the question Rex and Six deal with when facing a horde of zombie-like evos.

• “Beyond the Sea”
Rex and friends take off for an unscheduled visit to spring break. There, Rex strikes up a romance with a kindred spirit, Circe (Tara Sands), not knowing what dangerous secrets she hides.

• “Lockdown”
More secrets are revealed as Rex and Noah are trapped inside Providence headquarters with an evo during an emergency lockdown.

• “The Architect”
While on another unauthorized road trip, Rex comes across a small town run by a master architect, where he sees his powers can be put to better use than just fighting monsters. Has he found a new home, or is there more to this paradise than it seems?

• “Frostbite”
After Rex’s powers go haywire, it’s off to a Providence base hidden in an artic wasteland for rehabilitation. Once there, the base falls under attack, both from Van Kleiss’s henchmen and from a hidden threat within.

• “Leader of the Pack”
Van Kleiss shows up in New York with diplomatic immunity, hoping to negotiate peace with the U.N. Rex believes he’s up to no good. This also reunites Rex with Circe, rekindling their feelings for each other.

• “Breach”
Rex wakes up in an abandoned school, with no idea of how he got there. Elsewhere, Dr. Holiday has captured one of Van Kleiss’s agents, Breach (Hynden Walch, Teen Titans), a young girl with teleportation powers. Now Holiday has to get Breach to talk or else Rex will be trapped forever.

• “Dark Passage”
A scientist with a connection to the original nanotech event resurfaces, and both Providence and Van Kleiss are in a rush to find him and learn what he knows about the event, and about Rex’s past.

Ever seen a TV show that’s trying to be too many things at once? Like they took three or four ideas for a series and decided to do them all in one? That’s the feeling I got from watching Generator Rex. Take a look at the many combined elements of this show:

• A half-human, half-machine hero who battles giant monsters.

• A futuristic world in which nanotech has run amok and the mystery as to who or what caused it.

• A teenage secret agent whose rebellious nature has him not always following orders.

• A wisecracking, gun-toting chimp with an eyepatch.

Mix all these in a blender and you’ve got Generator Rex.

If you’re interested in monster battles, the show has you covered. The animators really go nuts when it comes to the fight scenes. The evos come in all shapes and sizes, and Rex has all kinds of ways to take them out. Some of Rex’s nanotech weapons include giant fists, giant boots, a motorcycle with a battering ram at the front, a giant sword, a giant spinning sawblade, and more. My favorite is the huge cannon that takes debris from the ground behind Rex and turns it into ammo. It’s interesting that Rex’s nanos always take the forms of machinery, while the enemy evos are always biological, looking like twisted plants and animals. This illustrates how the nanites have reacted to Rex differently than they react to anyone else.

Rex is a fairly rounded character, with a lot going on in his head. He’s mostly this fun-loving guy who enjoys using his powers and saving the day. He’s well aware, however, that this comes with a price, and that he doesn’t get to have a family, or friends, or go to school, or do anything that a normal teen does. His rebelliousness, disrespect for authority and not following orders all stem from that longing for normality. He gets to have a taste of this with his friendship with Noah, his palling around with the chimp, and even his flirtations with the conflicted Circe. Rex frequently sneaks out of Providence headquarters for rule-breaking road trips, and this not only shows his longing for another life, but it gives the writers an excuse to get him in new environments and facing new kinds of challenges he otherwise wouldn’t.

Six, despite his comically obvious resemblance to Agent Smith from The Matrix, is an interesting character. At first, he’s all about using Rex as a weapon and keeping Rex under control, because of the importance of their mission. As time goes by, though, Six shows a little bit of humanity, imparting some helpful, almost fatherly advice for Rex. Although Rex flirts shamelessly with Dr. Holiday, his real romance is with Circe. She’s torn between two worlds, clearly, but then so is he, as Van Kleiss has offered him the same “new home” that he’s offered to her. The fact that Rex and Circe are more or less in the same situation but on two opposing sides makes their relationship the most interesting on the show. Also of note is the friendship between Rex and Noah. Noah is a nice audience surrogate, so that when Rex gives him a tour of Providence headquarters, we’re getting the tour as well. At first, Noah has a big secret to hide. I assumed this would be part of the season-long arc, but instead, it’s resolved a lot sooner than I expected. This made me sit up and take notice, as it said that this is a show that’s willing to go outside of convention and try the unexpected.

For all the great work that’s gone into the designs and character work, there are a lot of frustrations in trying to understand the overall “world” of Generator Rex. There’s the big mystery of what caused the nanotech event, followed by the equally big mystery of Rex’s past, but there’s more. Why can Rex heal some evos and not others? Why does he not offer to try to heal Circe? Why are we initially told that evos are mindless beasts that can’t be reasoned with, only to meet ones that are intelligent and can be reasoned with? Just how widespread are the nanites? What affect have they had (or not) on the populace? And on and on. Getting only half the answers leads to frustrations and makes it look like the show has poor continuity, like it either has no established rules or is not following them.

To add to that point, why on earth is there a talking chimp on this show? In these nine episodes, he’s not given any backstory at all. Yeah, I know, this is a kid’s show and there has to comic relief, etc., but he still seems like he doesn’t belong. Is he an evo, or some other product of the nanites? If he has some other history, then how on earth did he end up as an agent at Providence? It’s like he’s the star of some other cartoon and accidentally wandered onto the set of this one. Hopefully, his presence will be explained in some future episode, because as it is now, he’s just a weird, out-of-place element not meshing with the rest of the series.

These negative points are too bad, because when the show works, it really works. Two of the better episodes, “Frostbite” and “Breach,” both dip their toes in the horror genre, and for some reason, this is really when the show fires on all cylinders. In “Frostbite,” Rex’s dream sequence is an amazing piece of animation, almost (almost, I said) reaching Kubrick/Lynch levels of dreamishness. The villain’s evo transformation at the end is another stunning visual, reminiscent of the anime classic Akira. In “Breach,” the ghostly, nightmarish place Rex ends up in offers more ghoulish visuals, and there is some fascinating development for the villain of the episode, giving a look at what makes her tick, without necessarily defanging her as a baddie.

• In one episode, Six’s swords are shown to have nifty electromagnetic powers, so why is this never used a second time?
• Why is the Cartoon Network logo at the end of every episode so much louder than anything else on these discs?
• Be warned: After a couple of episodes in a row, you’ll never get the repetitive theme song out of your head.

The animation is smooth and fluid, bright and colorful, and they look razor sharp in widescreen on this two-disc set. The audio is in 2.0, but works just fine, easily balancing music, dialogue and sound effects. There are only two extras. One is a music video of the show’s repetitive theme song, and the other is a slideshow of concept art set to the same theme song.

Generator Rex is a good show on the verge of becoming a great one. Here’s hoping that the creators can work out the kinks in future episodes without losing the good stuff they’ve already established. For now, though, I recommend putting this one in your queue and taking it for a test drive before buying.

The Verdict

Nano not guilty.

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