Firing out four feature films in just two years is, probably, the result of caffeine-fuelled nights, coke-fuelled days and a hell of a lot of overtime. Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs is nice enough, at least, to get the burnout away from its audiences as fast as it can. That is the offering here. Burnt out brains who have conducted finer works come together and cobble a few leftover stories together. That is what this feels like, anyway. Who knows whether that is the sad case of Futurama’s fine return to feature filmmaking. Bookended by stronger features, at least this brief setback gives the writing team some space to grow creatively, seeing what sticks and, unfortunately, what does not.
There are a couple of decent jokes filtering through Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, but few of them are actually anything to do with the plot. Dr. Zoidberg hurling up an entire lake worth of water, frogs and flowers to boot, to a returning Calculon soap drama. They are exceptional, and the quality expected of the show is found in brief pockets. As a running storyline, though, with consequences for the characters found within, the show leaves much to be desired. There is little in the way of precise procession, and that limits how much impact the piece can have not just as an entity that exists during the timeline of Futurama, but as a standalone project too. Nothing horrendously bad, but it lacks the captivating grip of the strongest episodes, and the emotion of the previous film, Futurama: Bender’s Big Score, is lost entirely.
Something about a rift, a sudden race to discover the origins of it between Professor Farnsworth and Ogden Wornstrom lets the story take flight, but where does it plan on going? It has gag after gag, and some of them are great, but they never take much shape or form. “Go even more, my team!” Wornstrom screams as they play some shoddy version of Rollerball. It is one of the many moments that take too long to get to the punchline and point. Neither is of much use here, and they are frequently underestimated. Its odd commentary on monogamy is sudden and unexpected. Futurama was a show that could dictate ideas with frank discussion but brilliant timing and comedy set the record straight and allow the show to make interesting expressions. Here, that is not the case.
Twisting and navigating a thinly veiled joke as something more forthright and inspired, the film never quite lifts itself up to the state of understanding its core concepts, nor does it know how to joke about them. Certainly the weakest of the four feature film offerings, Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs still has enough confidence and steam behind it to formulate a steady level of humour and fun. It just isn’t memorable. Futurama should be, yet its second feature-length instalment is far from it. A forgettable romp with the Planet Express team should be better than this, they did it countless times throughout their weaker and rougher patches. What goes wrong here though is an overreliance on character tropes, mingling with the sudden growth and direction of individuals who have no good reason to head in that direction.