The division between the high quality of the line-by-line writing and the low quality of the plotting in Bender’s Game verges on Deadwood Season Three levels. At this point,everyone involved understood all these characters and their world perfectly; on top of my all-time favourite Scary Door segment (“That humblest of all God’s creatures: the tyrannosaurus rex.”), you have lines like “Also, smell this milk,” and “I just pray to Almighty Atheismo…”, and anything with Mom as the main villain is gonna give you some killer lines (“I send you to kill them and they’re not even maimed?!”). I even actually love the premise of the film, with the characters entering an alternate universe that swaps the scifi aesthetic for a high fantasy one.
The problem is that it takes us half the goddamned film to get to the point, and when the switchover happens, it feels as if the energy just drops out. Emotional arcs set in motion in the first half are just dropped and replaced by things that are at best totally different variations on the same idea; the worst of these is Leela’s struggles with violence. In the scifi world, she wears a shock collar that punishes her for violent thoughts; in the fantasy world, she becomes a centaur, a species apparently known for their pacifism. Aside from the vague thematic connection, these are entirely unrelated and never deliver closure either way. I can see what they were going for, but the same idea could have easily and more effectively been conveyed by a smaller framing device and just throwing us straight into the strange fantasy world; if we know these people well enough to find Dr Zoidberg’s aroused head fin hilarious, you can just throw us in the deep end and we’ll roll with it.
It also calls forward to some major things the CC years would do, both good and bad. There’s a very heavy-handed satire of the fuel crisis at the time; I know we’re always running out of fuel and it’s always getting more expensive, and I know Futurama did parodies of current events all the time, but this feels closer to something like the crappy Susan Boil episode from the CC seasons, something so current that it’s lost something in the decade since release. On the bright side, there’s a willingness to upend the status quo, when Nibbler realises he forgot to wipe the gang’s minds last time and never bothers doing it again, as well as the reveal of Ignor being Farnsworth’s son. Even with a weak overall plot, this movie delivers on things that make Futurama great; that’s more than what can be said for what’s coming up next.