Ben Tennyson first put on the fancy genetics-altering wristwatch
called the Omnitrix, it was just an idea in the heads of
the writers' collective called Man of Action. Sure, they
hoped they had a good idea for a cartoon series. Probably
toy spin-offs danced in their heads, but live action had
to have been the furthest thing from their minds. After
all, this was Cartoon Network.
For the second time, however, Cartoon Network has adapted
Ben 10 to a live film, tonight launching Ben 10:
Alien Swarm. Like its predecessor, Ben 10: Race Against
Time, it may shrink the canvas of Ben's adventures a
little bit, but it's still surprisingly faithful to its
cartoon roots and thankfully, entertaining.
Following the revision set in the earlier movie, Ben (Ryan
Kelley) and his cousin Gwen (Galadriel Stineman) work directly
for their grandfather Max (Barry Corbin - replacing Lee
Majors) as members of "The Plumbers," a secret organization
dedicated to fighting off alien invasions. Apparently, this
happens more often than you'd think, and one of the slyest
jokes in the script by John Turman and show writer James
Krieg is how casually everybody takes this. So secret and
yet so not.
With their friend Kevin (Nathan Keyes), who has powers
roughly akin to Marvel's Absorbing Man, the Tennysons investigate
a black-market in alien technology, micro-chips that come
alive and swarm at the command of a mysterious figure in
They discover it's a set-up, of sorts, as a disgraced
Plumber's daughter Elena (Alyssa Diaz) needs their help
in finding her father. She believes he's been kidnapped
because of what he knows about alien tech; the truth may
be far darker, and Grandpa Max forbids everyone to help.
hey, they're teen-agers, and following orders is one of
the things they do worst. Good thing, too, because there's
a stealth invasion happening, and Max's fool pride blinds
him to it.
The script assumes familiarity with the characters' backgrounds
that a newcomer wouldn't have, but it also delineates characterization
quickly and easily. Our hero Ben is earnest, a lot more
popular in high school than he was in middle school, and
always trying to do the right thing. Flirting with bad boy
status, Kevin seems to be begrudgingly on the side of good,
if only because he has a thing for Gwen. As for her, she
has vague energy related powers, and seems to be waiting
for both of her boys to grow up.
But they do so well as teen heroes. That may be because
director Alex Winter spent some time as a likeable teen
hero himself, the unlikely William S. Preston, Esquire of
Bill and Ted. He knows how to make the somewhat goofy
seem sincere without crossing over into ridiculousness,
and he draws decent performances out of all the teen actors.
Whether it's him or a canny casting director, there's
also a sharp eye here for quirky actors that can make the
smallest part memorable. In particular, nice work for casting
Herb Siguenza of the Latino theater collective Culture Clash
as Elena's father, Validus. (A reference to the Legion of
Super-Heroes? The trio does function in personality like
Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl.)
A concept like Ben 10, though, can't fly just on acting
- there has to be action. Winter moves that part along well,
too, covering for the smaller scope of television by keeping
everything moving at a brisk pace and making the most of
each location. Even though the story only has a few sets
to it, it feels just right.
impressive of all, Winter has a budget to do a pretty good
job with the super-powers. The CG alter egos of Ben 10 all
look good, though I'd have liked to have seen more of them.
Then again, even the animated series keeps each episode
down to only two or three alien identities. The production
also proves that you can have absorption powers look surprisingly
effective without spending a lot of money; Winter does more
with Kevin's powers in the first fifteen minutes than Ang
Lee did in all of Hulk.
I'll admit, I'm armed with a rabid five-year-old who loves,
loves, LOVES Ben 10, so I would have had to have watched
this no matter what. But this is solid work, coming from
a mythos that really is reaching kids and giving them heroes
of their own instead of ones we're passing down and obsessively
quizzing them on. (Seriously, can't every kindergartener
name the founding roster of the Justice Society?) Check
out Alien Swarm; it might open you up to a new franchise,
and it's not a bad way for a fanboy family to start Thanksgiving.
Now if we could just get a decent comic book going out
Where: Cartoon Network
When: Wednesday, November 25, 7 p.m.