The Venture Bros. Is Nostalgic for Its Own Legacy in Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart

Movies Reviews The Venture Bros
The Venture Bros. Is Nostalgic for Its Own Legacy in Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart

I can only imagine that the idea of the “franchise wrap-up movie” must be something of a daunting task for writers, thanks to both the finality and burden of closure it represents. Particularly when the 90 minutes or so of that film is being used in lieu of an entire final season, it means the task has broadly become the condensation of everything that has been left unsaid and undone in a series, a frantic attempt to wrap things up for everyone involved, especially a loyal and obsessive contingent of fans. And this task must have been doubly difficult for a show like The Venture Bros., steeped as it has been for decades in an increasingly complex and bendy mythology, one that has already seen retcons on retcons across the last few seasons. When creators Chris McCulloch (Jackson Publick) and Doc Hammer decided to take this route to give fans the closure they were seeking via newly released (on digital) film The Venture Bros: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart, they were tacitly agreeing to effectively smooth out whatever story would have been told in the canceled Season 8 of the show, in favor of something more tidy and ultimately nostalgic. And the result is exactly that: A still somewhat convoluted wrap story that clarifies a few of the show’s bigger mysteries while indulging in a parade of series callbacks of varying quality.

At the end of the day, I’m fine with this as a longtime Venture Bros. geek. It doesn’t honestly feel like Publick and Hammer had a lot left to say via a series originally rooted in hilariously specific parody of old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, nor does one get the sense there was a burning need for Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart to be made. Rather, this is a denouement crafted for the sake of the longtime fans, who by and large wanted to feel as if there had been an ending for the series that was at least semi-conclusive. That, at least, can now be checked off the list.

The cumbersomely named film picks up right where season 7 of The Venture Bros. concluded almost five years ago, with Hank Venture (McCulloch) having gone “off the grid” following a nasty head injury and revelation that his girlfriend was cheating on him in a dalliance with his bookish brother Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas), now wracked with guilt. Dean is thus compelled to search for Hank across the U.S. to make amends with the help of two-thirds of the Order of the Triad, Dr. Orpheus (Steven Rattazzi) and Jefferson Twilight (Charles Parnell), The Alchemist (Dana Snyder) having seemingly only been available for a brief cameo. It’s Hank who shoulders the real narrative weight here though, fixating on the mysterious identity of the boys’ unknown mother as he undergoes a spiraling identity crisis, playfully depicted with Hank’s many alter egos (Enrico Matassa, The Bat, Detective Hank, er … Russian Guyovitch?) squabbling to influence his actions, leading to an obvious conclusion: It’s time to leave the affectations behind and decide who he really intends to be.

Doc (James Urbaniak) and The Monarch (McCulloch), meanwhile, are tied up in a genealogical debate of their own: Are they really half-brothers, as the season 7 finale implied was likely the case? Can Rusty’s new invention finally put the whole Venture clan on easy street, and will The Monarch’s frustrations with Guild red tape push him into the arms of new supervillain organization ARCH and its mysterious leader Mantilla (Nina Arianda)? Despite this storyline’s closer ties to the film’s goofy title, it takes a decidedly second-tier positioning to Hank’s existential quest. Likewise, most of the series’ incredibly deep roster of supporting characters make their expected appearances to deploy a deftly worded zinger or two, but there’s not really time to go deep with any of them–even the beloved Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton), who has no real storyline of his own here. With so many loose threads needing to be vaguely knotted together, there just isn’t time.

What we tend to get instead is a constant stream of callbacks and self-referential humor, some of it warmly evoking Venture Bros. moments that are worthy of bittersweet remembrance and others just rehashing throwaway jokes that were mildly funny three seasons earlier. The quality of these efforts is wildly uneven–there are some fleeting gags that reference Season 1 moments that are more than enough to make a longtime fan of the series’ heart swell with nostalgic delight, but these same types of gags are also routinely taken too far, with the characters themselves calling out the callbacks with the kind of elbow-jostling “look, a thing you’ll recognize” ardor that pushes the affect from fondness into something closer to embarrassment. This is never more apparent than in a third-act appearance from the Voltron-style giant robot known as Ventronic, a callback that would have worked just fine on its own without Brock’s face glazing over in a dreamy smile as he says “I remember that fuckin’ thing” like he just shoved a fistful of South Park‘s Member Berries down his throat. Even the characters in Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart all too often seem nostalgic for their own story, which is itself a quality capable of paralyzing franchises of a certain age.

Indeed, it’s the new material of Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart that actually tends to possess the most verve, such as the scintillating introduction of new antagonist/Monarch ex-girlfriend Mantilla, or a brief glimpse at Jefferson Twilight’s past as a renegade Blacula hunter in Chicago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these sequences are also the scenes that take the most advantage of what was presumably an expanded film budget and longer production schedule than typical episodes of The Venture Bros., bringing to life a few impressive action sequences with more moving parts and splashy effects than we typically saw on TV. There’s not quite enough of this material, but at the end of the day the film can always lean on the richly absurd, dialogue-driven humor that the series always favored to bridge the gaps, like the following explanation of the meaning of “several” from Dr. Z, which is beautifully phrased: “A few is not unlike some, while several is more than a couple, but less than many!” Now that is the kind of kooky line that you would only find on The Venture Bros.

Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart was never going to get particularly avant-garde on us, more than two decades after the premiere of the series on Adult Swim. The remaining audience, after all, are those die-hard fans who have stuck with the travails of the Venture clan over the years as they grew from hyper-specific parodies of Jonny Quest characters into three-dimensional, complex personalities struggling against the weight of generational expectations and the knowledge of their own inescapable (genetic, mental, spiritual) flaws. McCulloch and Hammer have provided some “answers” here, though at the end of the day most of the questions didn’t truly need answers in a conventional sense. They’ve delivered what the franchise wrap-up movie format practically demands: A broad and shallow (rather than deep and specific) overview of the series’ greatest hits, giving everybody a moment or two in the spotlight as we wave goodbye to one of the great comedy series of the last two decades. If you’ve followed this far, it only makes sense to indulge a little bit further. One last time, then: Go Team Venture.

Directors: Chris McCulloch, Doc Hammer
Writers: Chris McCulloch, Doc Hammer
Starring: Chris McCulloch, Doc Hammer, James Urbaniak, Nina Arianda, Michael Sinterniklaas, Patrick Warburton, Jane Lynch
Release Date: July 21, 2023 (digital), July 25, 2023 (Blu-ray)

Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident genre guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film content.

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