FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
I'm not sure why I've never warmed to the various BEN 10 franchises. The basic premise is strong: Ben Tennyson, a young boy who's fairly self-involved but essentially good-hearted, gets ahold of an alien "watch" with which he can transform into various super-powered aliens, in whose forms he battles assorted supervillains and alien menaces. Voicework is good, storylines are reasonably intelligent, and considering the usual financial limitations of television animation, the battles of heroes and villains are well choreographed, certainly better in a technical sense than the TV cartoon-superheroes I grew up with, like SPACE GHOST.
However, there's a certain sameness about all of the episodes and their TV-movie spinoffs. The franchise improves somewhat when the central characters are advanced to their teen years in the BEN 10: ALIEN FORCE iteration, and Ben gains two super-powered partners in his cousin Gwen (who, to be sure, displayed such powers irregularly as a kid in the first series) and hunky former villain Kevin E. Leven. Still, even these episodes suffer from one major problem: the titular character is just not that interesting. Even Space Ghost, who had no origin and effectively came from nowhere, remained interesting just by virtue of having a certain heroic *gravitas.* Because Ben Tennyson starts out as a somewhat bratty kid, a lot of episodes revolve around him learning a lesson even in the midst of his superhero endeavors, and the pattern's still followed in his teenaged series to some extent. But Ben himself is never that compelling. His moments of selfishness rarely if ever have strong consequences, so I suppose I always feel that he's got it too easy. Even Space Ghost had an episode where he was willing to go into exile for losing a contest, until he found out said contest had been rigged.
The two BEN 10 movies I recently screened both focus on the character in his kid-phase. SECRET OF THE OMNITRIX was indeed conceived as a rough finale for the first series, though it did leave enough doors open so that the producers could launch the teenaged version the following year.
SECRET's plot follows a basic "ticking clock" format: following a battle, Ben discovers that his superhero-watch, "the Omnitrix" has begun a self-destruct program capable of unleashing near-universal destruction. A crystalline-alien ally named Tetrax, introduced in the series proper, joins Ben in an outer space odyssey (with cousin Gwen as a stowaway) to locate Azmuth, reclusive inventor of the Omnitrix, so that he can disarm the deadly device. At the same time recurring villain Vilgax hunts Ben and Tetrax, planning on acquiring the Omnitrix for his own evil designs.
The script allows for a small degree of characterization amid all the action. Ben and Tetrax meet Myaxx, who collaborated with Azmuth on the Omnitrix project, but who feels she wasn't given adequate credit for her labors. When the heroes do meet Azmuth at last, he's not immediately motivated to help them in that he's become embittered that his great invention wasn't used as anything but a super-weapon. One wonders how much altruism was in the scientist's heart when he equipped the super-watch with a program capable of annihilating whole planets. But here too the opposition to the heroes' quest is overcome rather easily: after Ben, Tetrax and Gwen repel an assault by Vilgax, Azmuth changes his mind and puts his seal of approval on Ben's continuing alien-hero activities.
BEN 10: DESTROY ALL ALIENS appears to be a nostaglic reboot of the series, though Wikipedia mentions that it's not considered to be "in canon." The script repeats some of the basic tropes of SECRET, especially in that Ben is pulled into another alien-menace story by the crystalman Tetrax. At the same time, Ben's super-watch is again on the fritz, though this time it's the result of magical meddling by Ben's fractious cousin Gwen. A pair of new alien threats manifest as well, while again Ben and Tetrax seek maintenance-help from the testy Azmuth, but this time Ben is treated as more of a bratty kid, in that he sneaks out of his parents' house while grounded in order to go superheroing. One of the alien menaces turns out to have had familial problems as well, which ends up reminding the truculent Ben of The Importance of Family. Some of the alien-fights are reasonably well done, but the computer animation is overly glossy and unattractive, while the plot lacks a strong dramatic center. Like SECRET, DESTROY concludes with a reference to the character's open-ended and therefore unending adventures.
I'll probably watch them. But I'll also probably continue to think SPACE GHOST was way better.