Ben 10: Alien Swarm [Wednesday, 7/6C] is the second live-action Ben 10 movie produced by The Cartoon Network and, like the animated series, Ben 10: Alien Force, from which it is spun off, it features teen-aged versions of the characters first introduced in the original Ben 10 series.
In Alien Swarm, Ben [Ryan Kelley], Gwen [Galadriel Stineman] and Kevin [Nathan Keyes] discover an alien biotech that forms as a swarm of tiny, living carbon-silicon chips through a couple of would-be alien tech merchants. The deal was set up in order for Elena [Alyssa Diaz] to get in touch with Ben to seek his help in finding her father who has been abducted. This inevitably leads to a situation which calls for Ben, Gwen and Kevin to save the world.
The second Ben 10 movie gets off to a rather stilted, static beginning. The would-be alien tech dealers just stand around as Ben, Gwen, Kevin and Elena talk through several points of exposition that make it clear that the two should have been running away.
Things pick up when the alien tech – what appear to be tiny computer chips – come to life and form a glowing swarm that ears anything in its path. Ben uses his Omnitrex to change into Big Chill, an alien that has freezing breath, and puts the swarm out of commission – but not before the shadowy figure that controlled them disappears.
Elena asks Ben to help her find and free her abducted father, but when they return to their secret headquarters [beneath an auto repair chop], Ben and Gwen’s grandfather, Max [Barry Corbin] nearly blows a gasket. He says that Elena is not to be trusted – her father was a traitor!
Naturally, Ben disagrees with Max’s view of Elena and promises to help her save her father – flying in the face of the Plumbers [the secret organization that protects Earth from alien invasion]. Kevin and Gwen go into Max’s computer files to find out why Victor Validus [Herbert Siguenza] was deemed a traitor.
Once the awkward opening exposition is done, Alien Swarm picks up the pace a bit – beginning with the first encounter between the team and the alien swarm. There are a number of scenes with motorcycles and souped up cars [seeing Kevin’s car in the “real world” is definitely fun], but the best action sequences are the fights, where we get to see Ben, Gwen and Kevin use their powers. The shift from actor to CG in the case of Kevin’s absorbing power is smoothly done, while Gwen’s energy bolts and shields are very believable.
Of course, the big attraction is Ben’s transformation into a number of aliens. Despite the relatively low budget, he gets to become three different aliens – one of them new: Big Chill [flight and freezing breath], Humangosaur [super strength and near invulnerability] and Nanomech [not giving away this one].
Ben 10: Alien Swarm is a competently put together action/adventure movie that has a few clunky moments [mostly in the opening exposition and in the Plumbers’ secret headquarters], a lot cool action sequences and even a few moments of romance and mystery.
The visual effects are pretty cool, for the most part [though there are some moments where Big Chill doesn’t quite work] and the stunt work is better than average. Director Alex Winter keeps up the pace, except for the previously mentioned sequences and gets some decent performances from most of the cast – Corbin’s crustier-than-usual Grandpa Max works beautifully; Keyes captures Kevin’s quasi-rebellious nature, and Kelley definitely has a feel for Ben’s brashness and self-confidence. The week spot is Diaz as Elena. Her performance is wooden enough and sullen enough that she makes The Twilight Saga’s Bella look like very soul of jolliness.
Overall, Ben 10: Alien Swarm is a fun ride that doesn’t quite match the energy and freshness of Ben 10: Race Against time – although the alien swarm is a far more flexible/adaptable foe than Race Against Time’s Eon. The key is that Alien Swarm, despite its older and potentially more mature characters, feels less mature than Race Against Time.
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