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The Force---the "Alien Force"---Is With "Ben 10"

For five years Ben Tennyson has been living a normal life. Oh, he still gets to play hero on occasion: When we first catch up to him in Ben 10: Alien Force, he’s scoring an MVP medal by helping his team win a soccer game. There are also hints that he’s started getting attention from the ladies. But things don’t stay normal for long after he goes to visit his grandpa and gets attacked by an alien. Moreover, he discovers that his grandpa is missing; more baffling still, Max has left behind a holographic message in which he claims (falsely, it seems) to have taken the Omnitrix.

Ben then joins up with Max’s old partner, an alien plumber, and Gwen to bust a weapons deal that Max had been investigating. Said transaction, in turn, is being brokered by Kevin Eleven, who nevertheless agrees to help Ben and his friends even after they screw up his deal. The new quartet is quickly cut back down to a trio, though, when Max’s partner is killed during a follow up fight with the Forever Knights.

There follows another set of battles after Ben and the gang use a spiffy piece of alien tech to infiltrate an alien base. It’s probably not much of a spoiler to reveal that the mission is mostly successful, though it does leave Ben, Gwen, and Kevin with the job of finding and rescuing Grandpa Max, wherever he happens to be.

During the fights, meanwhile, Ben’s watch has transformed and given him access to an entirely new set of aliens. (Three of them—Swampfire, Echo Echo, and Humongosaur—show up in this pilot.) It’s got a catch, though: Ben learns the hard way that now the energies he receives will pass onto his real form. What a stupid idea for an upgrade.

Five years change a boy, that they do. Ben (voiced by Yuri “Sasuke Uchiha” Lowenthal, who pulls off the role well) no longer has the inflated ego—or not as much as he once had—and he no longer appears to be on a sugar high. Besides his newfound maturity he also has greater self-awareness. He voices doubts about his own capabilities in Max’s absence, for instance, and shows a great deal of fear about Max’s possible death. He also isn’t as headstrong as he used to be—as shown by his going to Gwen for advice—and he delivers an honest apology when he speaks too sharply to her at one point. The fact that Ben is now able to recognize how his actions affect others is testament to the maturation of old age—’cause, y’all know, fifteen is old to the kids nowadays: just look at Cartoon Network and their love of the cartoon equivalent of Botox.

Ben still gets off the occasional wisecrack at Kevin’s expense, so not all has changed. For his part, Kevin has reverted back to his human form somehow, and seems to have picked up a sense of honor as well. No, wait, I think he just hit “that age,” as he now fawns all over young Gwen like a darn callboy, and, to be honest, Greg Cipes makes him sound like a creepy stalker. In another oddity, Kevin seems to have forgotten why he’s called “Kevin Eleven,” as not once in the pilot does he transform into the alien form that he could not switch out of in the original series. Back in my favorite episode of the original, “Ken 10,” Kevin seemed to eventually gain full control over his powers, so this could possibly play a part in the aforementioned subject, but then again this new series seems to contradict the original series’ implied future.

And as long as we’re speculating about the future, let’s take a look at the alien technology that I mentioned earlier. Ben and his friends are able to sneak into the alien compound thanks to a mask that, when worn, can project a holographic illusion altering its wearer’s appearance. Now, the pilot opens with one of the villainous red shirts grunts telling his unappreciative liege that they have a problem in the form of Max Tennyson. It sounds to me like Max’s voice actor, Paul Eiding, is also voicing the poor dog. So I’m going to call it here and now: Max is using a mask-thingy to pose as a grunt to get the big baddie to send another grunt to attack him—or rather the “Rust Bucket”—as a way to tip off his grandchildren and get them back in the game to help him.

Oh, a few words about Gwen: Ashley Johnson just doesn’t cut it for me. When casting for this show the directors and producers seem to have forgotten that Meagan Smith could probably still voice the character. On the other hand, this Gwen is far less of an elitist and is more calm and caring. Even so, her battle grunts—and goodness there’s a lot of those—just don’t seem to have enough fierceness to them. Finally, though it isn’t Johnson’s fault, but Gwen is now boasting a set of Joile lips. Good Lord!!

If you like “henshin”, the genre Power Rangers lends itself to, I assume you might find some worthwhile stuff in this show. I know I’ll be watching to see if this series surpasses its predecessor, though it’s a tall order to ask of any series that had “Ken 10″ in it.

Ben 10: Alien Force will premiere on Friday, April 18, at 8:00pm (ET/PT).

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