It was the Winter of 2003. Nerds and geeks don’t have a seat at the table yet. The MCU doesn’t exist for another five years. However, we got something much more rare. When Adult Swim first aired their animated The Venture Bros. to a small, but stalwart fanbase, we got a show that never talked down to its audience and always paid in dividends.
It is the Summer of 2023. Twenty years and seven seasons later, their feature film, The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) exists as both a cinematic swan song as well as just another week in the Venture Verse. For creator-showrunners Christopher McCulloch (Jackson Publick) and Doc Hammer, time never stops in the universe, even after the credits roll. Science is about the pursuit of truth and discovery, moving forward while still able to look in the rearview.
We’re immediately greeted with JG Thirwell’s ventricle-pumping score as man-mountain and fan favorite Brock (Patrick Warburton) touches down in Queens with OSI agents. Brock gets the coordinates from the steely Colonel Gathers, finding only a homeless person rocking Hank’s cherry Le Mans Venture jacket containing his phone. “The Batman” gave it to him, but that’s of little concern now. An explosion five blocks from their location pivots the OSI from search and rescue to lock and load.
The setup is quick and punchy. Doc and Jackson know what it’s like to operate within time constraints and they know what they want to see on screen as fans. At VenTech towers in Manhattan, Dr. Venture (James Urbaniak) refuses to release any DNA sample to Dr. Mrs. the Monarch (Hammer) aka Sheila. He’s had enough time wasted with a big VenTech launch tomorrow but she insists on getting conclusive evidence of whether he and the Monarch are related. He thinks she secretly hopes for some of the Rusty coursing through her husband. Ew. Dean (Mike Sinterniklaas) informs Pop of the search being called off due to some “frog guy” (oh?) blowing up. Doc’s insouciant and why hell not? Hank’s gonna Hank. Goddamn, he’s too pure.
We check in with Conjectural Technologies when Billy Quizboy informs Doc of a problem with his HelperPod. When its volume is increased, it levitates and when you ask it to stop the music, gravity takes hold. Instead of hesitation, Doc chooses festination, even when the Pirate Captain doubles down and claims they cost more to build than they are to sell or as Pete brilliantly phrases it, pulling a “Blue Monday”. Chef’s kiss.
I’m a fan of the way the problem was presented. Many of us use smart technology in our day-to-day lives and even more have heard the horror stories as well. Peddling H.E.L.P.eR.’s head as a smart speaker with hiccups brings in a stumbling block bigger than a mere arch, Doc’s own hubris. Wait a minute…
The Monarch (McCulloch) and Henchman 21 aka Gary need to cut the shit. No amount of arching of Venture, however surreptitious, is permissible until the DNA results from Doc’s mug are conclusive. As a level 10 with hands tied, the Monarch may as well have on a fucking chastity belt. They spot the Mantilla (Nina Arianda) aka Debbie. She’s part of an elite outfit that Gary could not be more eager to join called Arch, and they operate apart from the Guild, which makes this Sheila’s business. Especially when their newest recruit is Brick Frog!! Explosives are more effective than garden-variety bricks, harrowingly so when thrown in a factory that manufactures material to withstand them. Last I checked, the composition of people is still pretty combustible.
While not Kim (seriously, give it up, people), this was fan service of the highest order, as this once throwaway character from Jackson’s childhood made its way onto the screen back in Season 4. Ever since then, he’s been a fan favorite and a testament to what made this show so special to begin with; giving the little guy his shine, if for but a moment. For an EMA Level 1 that throws a damn brick and shouts his name, he certainly didn’t quit the Guild quietly. Red Death (Clancy Brown) knows a serious “commination” when he sees one, so Sheila’s on the undertaking of heading a subcommittee.
We also check in with our favorite supernatural trio, the Order of the Triad when Dean Venture visits them in their new sanctum santorum, a Jewish synagogue. We also get some hot early VB. character design when the Scmatte Golem, Hebrew in origin, who came with the place appears. The Alchemist (Dana Synder) dips in before Jefferson Twilight (Charles Parnell) intervenes. Dean is racked with guilt and Dr. Orhpeus (Steven Rattazzi) knows he can use this love to locate his brother. Turns out it’s worse than he thought and with the past, present, and future all converging at once for Hank, did somebody say ‘road trip’?
I was hoping the ever-inimitable Dana Snyder would have had more lines, I can always revisit the classic moments of when he sleuthed with Hank or relayed the etymology of a “Rusty Venture”. I completely understand that concessions must be made when you’re working with so much material, yet are limited in the scope of keeping it a lean feature length that’s still filling.
We travel from the confines of the Order’s Bleeker-Street-ass-lookin base to a train cutting a serpentine swath through the majestic Rocky Mountains. Hank, huddled up by himself in a car spills himself onto the page. But he’s not alone. The opening synth line to Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” seeps in, and it’s pretty evident we’re in for a story. The old Hank is dead. He’s a man with no home, no girl, and for damn sure no brother, only wanting to take it off the map. So he rides the rails, on a pilgrimage to where it all started with a little help from Enrico Matassa, Russian Guyovitch, Detective Hank, and The Bat on a mission to “find her.”
Including the fugue Hanks was a no-brainer. (I’m aware.) Personally, I find Hank to be totemic of the childlike wonder of discovery we struggle to retain as adults, whereas Dean was always more a reminder of the anxiety and fear we inherit as them. “Two sides of the same coin.”
As far as the Monarch is concerned, the Guild can go fucking pound walnuts. Henchman 21 doesn’t think playing when the cat’s away is a capital idea, especially when Mantilla is an ex. The Monarch claims she cheated on him with Venture but it doesn’t top the list of reasons to hate him so the QR code is scanned from 21’s phone, immediately downloading his data. As Gary himself would say, “Pwnd.”
Arch HQ is run like a certain social media conglomerate, complete with Acolytes (not Henchmen) and accessible through a mere thumb swipe. Sure, it’s a slag on Meta, but it does drive the story and keeps their world grounded as if it were in our own reality, even though we don’t possess cool shit like thought-accessed weaponry. What, you expected them to decline?
Back into the action, we go from the gorgeously painted Rana-Dale Industries building, the scene of the crime, where Shore Leave and Sheila agree to not involve the Guild and keep it between them, Brock and Red Death to Jefferson and company bedding down in Chicago at the Handy Dandy Factory, hosted by Darkman/Freddy amalgam Clayton (Hal Lublin).
Like a good solid ice cream base can take to myriad mix-ins, so can the Venture Verse. Both feel like they could lead to places we may never see, but that’s life. Even when the show was on the air, the general consensus was that life goes on in between the episodes. You’re only getting an infinitesimal smattering of life’s events. It’s one of the main reasons the show has always been on another level. The movie doesn’t stray far from that concept, so let’s not this time thank whatever goat we worshipped, let’s just thank both creators for knowing, loving, and respecting their product.
Hank arrives at the Venture Compound in Denver only to find a leveled, desiccated husk of its former glory, a result of the final episode of the series, “The Sapharax Protocol”. All he has to do is survey the scene to fill in the blanks while the series of key moments through seven seasons boils down to a joke in the goddamn pilot. He recalls The Action Man mentioning the name of Bobbi St. Simone. He stands frozen for a moment in cogitation until Dermott Fictel rolls up on him, which I’ll take as a bone thrown. A little dollop of Dermott was just enough and making him a modern-day rag-and-bone man with Venture tech is hilarious. I am sure they could have gone so many places with that in an eighth season, and I will lament.
We’re treated to the white-hot opening credits of the 60s beach picture Follow That Bikini! with Bobbi St. Simone. The amount of research gone into this whole show never ceases to amaze me. In one social media video, she’s gone Baskin and at her Caring Hands Second Chance Ranch, Bobbi (Jane Lynch) regales Hank with a little story on how she became Madame Majeure. This sends him to the “sunken place” aka Coma Town before Dr. O shows up. Dean does get his astral donny brooking when he accidentally makes contact with conduit Jefferson. Better in there than in the real world, I suppose.
This wrests Orpheus from his slumber. Before all three can peace out, we’re treated to some pedigree close-quarter combat, compliments their would-be dispatchers, the New Jack City-inspired Blood Brothers headed up by Nuno (Jay Pharoah). Jefferson’s not powerful enough to overtake but Orpheus has a golem with their name on it. Or just the word “pants” in Hebrew, with the off-switch being a sock spelling “miracle”. Top shelf as always.
Initially wanting to go shithouse on Venture, we see that things aren’t so great for the Monarch and 21 once Mantilla abandons them after linking with VenTech Tower. Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” hotly pipes through HelperPods figuratively lighting the fuse with the gorgeous VenTech Tower in all its three-dimensional grandeur being torn from the block, ascending. The show has never steered us wrong with its scant but effective use of licensed music and for one last go-round, it’s a damn Hollywood set piece. Sheila has also now run afoul of both the OSI and Guild alike due to some damning evidence found by the three she’s in liaison with, I guess, off to find Debbie.
Venture tower leaves earth’s atmosphere. In the tower elevator to retrieve hatred, both Monarch and Venture hash it out about Deborah. It was a misunderstanding, but who gives a crap when the electromagnetic field nearly obliterates them all before Debbie concedes to Sheila, turning off the HelperPods and sending VenTech Tower hurtling toward Earth?
We get one last bit of white-knuckled action with a deus ex mecha when Ventronic rockets into action. Team Venture with the help of OSI and resident computer nerd Snoopy (John Hodgman) brings the Tower safely down the old terra firma where Venture Compound once stood, bringing it full circle. The Monarch suffers a gaping hole where his liver used to be, but ole Ben (J.K. Simmons) from the Halloween special.
It turns out they aren’t brothers after all. The most obvious answer was in front of us all along. They are clones. Two sides of the same “Scientastic” coin. The difference between odious and onerous was just 2% Baboon DNA in the Monarch. All because experiment science junkie Jonas just had to play god. It’s a satisfying conclusion to me, a cautionary tale of what happens when you fuck with super science and create with obsession, not love. Both Doc and Jackson never took for granted the gravity of every choice fold into this world. This is life-changing stuff, but it’s not universe-shifting, nor should it be. That would abberate from their Original Formula. It does, however, lay the foundation for some really twisted dynamism.
Though it started out as a humble parody of Johnny Quest cartoons, The Venture Bros. had developed over time into this flourishing microcosm. Without the superscience, supernatural, and surreal we’re left with intoxicating human emotion and story. We know these characters. We find kinship in them. We know at the end of the day, just like science itself, knowing the data is only half the battle. What we do with that data makes all the difference to not only ourselves but also the ones we love.
Keeping that in mind, the final reveal I view as a coda to Ben’s elegant words to Hank. It adds one last beautiful and valuable “complexity” to the Venture circle of life as time keeps on ticking. Go Team Venture.