Ratchet & Clank by no means breaks new ground for animation. However, it could be seen as a minor stepping-stone for video game movies. From Super Mario Bros., to Mortal Kombat, to Street Fighter, to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, to Hitman, to Resident Evil, to Doom, to any of the movies by Uwe Boll, video game screen adaptations rarely capture the spirit of their source material. While Ratchet & Clank has its problems, it does maintain much of the charm, wit, and mayhem displayed in its PlayStation predecessors. This is probably because many key members from the game series, such as writer T.J. Fixman, worked on this cinematic outing as well. Their film is likely to appease most kids and some fans of the games, although it doesn’t have the widespread appeal of Wreck-It Ralph.
If you haven’t played the games, here’s the setup: Ratchet is a Lombax, a catlike alien, who works as a mechanic in a galaxy far, far away. Like Luke Skywalker and Rey, Ratchet dreams of getting off his desert planet and becoming something more. Those dreams are obliterated when the Galactic Rangers reject him. Just when our hero is ready to give up, he encounters a little robot that receives the name of Clank. Learning of a dastardly plan that’ll leave their galaxy in ruins, Ratchet and Clank team up to show everyone what they’re truly made of.
A number of big name talents lend their voices to the film, including Paul Giamatti as the devious Chairman Drek, Rosario Dawson as a plucky tech girl named Elaris, and Sylvester Stallone as a meathead robot named Victor Von Ion. Most of the original voice actors from the games return too and they’re the ones that really shine. James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye reprise their roles as Ratchet and Clank, respectively. As per usual, they make for a wonderful team with no shortage of chemistry. We also get some nice work from Armin Shimerman as Doctor Nefarious, who was destined to become a mad scientist, and Jim Ward as Captain Qwark, who sounds a bit like William Shatner and is every bit as egotistical.
The film is packed with plenty of lively environments that are pleasant on the eyes. The fast-paced speed of the comedy and animation additionally amounts to several clever sight gags. With that said, some of the written humor here can be hit and miss. For every joke that succeeds, there’s another one that’s just a little too obvious. The story also kind of feels like it came off the assembly line. Granted, plot has never been the focus of Ratchet & Clank. The franchise has always been more about colorful characters and silly fun, which this adaptation delivers. When you’re making a movie, however, one can’t help but desire more on a storytelling level.
Even if Ratchet & Clank isn’t one big laugh after another, you will find yourself consistently smiling and chuckling throughout. It doesn’t reach the same frontier of Pixar, Disney, or even DreamWorks, but the film does kind of work as a feature-length Saturday morning cartoon. The movie encompasses much of what players adore about the video games… well, excluding the actual gameplay element. If you’d rather control Ratchet and Clank than watch them, you can always play their latest adventure on PS4, which comes highly recommended and is admittedly better than this film. As movie stars, though, the delightfully destructive duo still has more than enough charisma to go around.
So does this mean Ratchet & Clank will usher in a golden age of video game movies? No. The film is really more of a bronze medal, although that’s still a step up from other video game adaptations. Ratchet & Clank has a lot in common with Hardcore Henry, which wasn’t based on a video game, but was obviously inspired by first-person shooters. Both of these movies had a lot of effort put into them and function as pure escapism. However, we’ve yet to get a video game adaptation that excels in the storytelling department.
On one hand, it isn’t surprising that the story is the weakest part of any video game movie. After all, many video games put more emphasis on gameplay rather than story. With titles like Mass Effect, Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Life is Strange, however, video game narratives have come a long way over the years. So why can’t video game movies do the same?
Last year, I wrote a feature entitled, Why Video Game Movies Don’t Have to Suck. In the article, I stated that the first step towards making a good video game adaptation is appreciating the source material, which Ratchet & Clank certainly does. The next step forward, though, is constructing a story that works as a feature film. Will we ever see a video game movie that works as both a faithful adaptation and a compelling standalone story? It’s hard to say. The movie industry is still figuring how exactly to adapt this medium to the big screen and the results have been mixed at best.
A few more video game adaptations are set to come out in 2016, such as Angry Birds, Warcraft, and Assassin’s Creed. Any of these films could be a major turning point for video game movies. Of course they could also just take steps backwards. Until then, Ratchet & Clank is at least arguably a step forward, albeit a small step.
For more on Ratchet & Clank, be sure to read our review of the film.