All self-respecting nerds remember a time when Matt Groening’s Futurama was on the air for four glorious seasons from 1999 to 2003. Unfortunately, due to the supreme short-sightedness of Fox executives, it was canceled.

Thank goodness for basic cable syndication. After the show was shown in rerun on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, new life was breathed back into the series and fan support aided in the genesis of four direct-to-DVD movies that will be split into a sixteen-episode fifth season. The Beast With A Billion Backs is the second of those four DVDs and it will be released on June 24. This is an early review.

Coming off the previous direct-to-DVD movie – Bender’s Big Score – a scant few months ago, my anticipation was high for this second film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to it’s fantastic premise. Where as the first movie was generously sprinkled with references to the fan base that propelled a meticulously researched time-travel adventure, The Beast With A Billion Backs peters out somewhere in the third act and becomes almost… commonplace — Inexcusable in the vastly weird and unpredictable world of Futurama!

Having recently broken up with Colleen (voiced by Brittany Murphy) whose interpretation of love is somewhat untethered. Fry (voiced by Billy West) despondently throws himself into a recently emerging rift in the space time continium. There, he meets a horrific monster from another dimension who takes control of Fry’s body and crosses the threshold into our universe where he makes Fry the Pope of a new religion and forcibly takes control of every living being in the universe.

The film does a good job of setting an ominous tone as the monster invades Earth. A chase sequence with Leela, Amy and Zapp Brannagan is a great piece of choreographed action and the rapid-fire jokes and references never fail to miss the mark.

The movie begins to unravel, however, in the third act when it begins to change its tone. When the monster, introducing itself as Yivo (voiced by David Cross) reveals its true intentions, the movie changes gears from ominous and threatening to commonplace and terrestrial. There are still components of it that are weird in a Futurama way, but the underpinnings of the characters reactions are all based in trite relationship drama.

Additionally, the sub-plots involving Amy’s marriage to Kif and Bender’s take-over of a secret robot society feel almost unrelated to the movie. Bender’s sub-plot keeps him almost out of the movie entirely.

Perhaps turnabout is fair play since Bender was the complete focus of the first movie. And Futurama has a large stable of characters to draw from, so it’s difficult to incorporate them all evenly. I wouldn’t have a problem with Bender being relegated to the sidelines if his plot line were a little more in sync with the rest of the action. When there is off-planet action and Bender is still hanging out on Earth, it feels like a missed opportunity. Not until late in the third act do they rectify this.

Despite it’s problems, there are still plenty of laughs to be had in The Beast With A Billion Backs. All the hidden jokes and throw-away gags (like the St. Asimov’s Day Parade) are still there in full-force and I was laughing out loud several times. The voice acting is all top-notch and – truthfully – ANY Futurama is better than NO Futurama. So I would still encourage this as a purchase for anyone who is a fan of the series.

As for the extras, the cast and crew deliver another hilarious commentary track and there are a handful of deleted scenes and outtakes of the cast members flubbing their lines during recording.

A special “lost” episode is collected from the cut-scenes of the Futurama video game and stitched together with a few tweaks to hilarious effect. There are also a few behind-the-scenes featurettes like “Meet Yivo” – which is a few minutes in the recording booth with David Cross who ad-libs while obnoxiously eating popcorn and “A Brief History of Deathball” which reveals some of the concept art behind the newest future sport in the Futurama universe.

The Beast With A Billion Backs is worthwhile purchase for hard core fans. But at the end of the day, it just doesn’t hold up as well as its predecessor and doesn’t quite live up to the epic-ness of it’s title. Going in with reasonable expectations will probably enhance your enjoyment of the movie in the long run.