Editor’s Note: Ratchet & Clank opened in wide theatrical release April 29, 2016.
Adapting video games into films seems to be tricky business for some reason. Many games now have such intricate and even cinematic storylines and cut-scenes (the story advancement between gameplay) that taking those stories and eliminating the gameplay should be a reasonably easy task, yet time and time again moviegoers sit through horrible films adapted from video games and gamers are doubly disappointed when the film is bad and it is not a good representation of the game. Now here is Ratchet & Clank, a film based on the 14-year-old Playstation game series and it’s a decent, if unremarkable, film (not being a gamer, I have no idea if it lives up to the series or not).
It’s a shame that the script doesn’t live up to the visual effort put into the film and the gusto that the actors, a cast that includes the above mentioned and Sylvester Stallone and Rosario Dawson, put into their parts.
The story centers on Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Ratchet in the games and the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Clone Wars), a mechanic who dreams of being a Galactic Ranger and saving the galaxy. When several planets are blown up by Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), the Rangers hold tryouts to add a fifth member, which Ratchet sees as his big opportunity. Of course, he is denied by Captain Qwark (Jim Ward, veteran voice actor and voice of Qwark in the games) and his boss, Grimross (John Goodman) advises him to set his goals lower so he isn’t disappointed in his life. That night, a defective unit from Drek and Dr. Nefarious’ (Armin Shimerman, who played Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) plant where they are making an army of murder-bots and crash lands on Ratchet’s planet. Ratchet finds the unit and names him Clank (David Kaye, also reprising his role from the games). The two set out to warn the Galactic Rangers of the plan to kill them, but the duo are too late and the attack has already begun. Ratchet and Clank save the day and are begrudgingly made members of the Galactic Rangers.
The story goes on from there, covering defeat; failure; redemption; betrayal; more redemption and acceptance. You can pretty much fill in the story yourself because it’s not particularly inventive or original. Writer/director Kevin Monroe (who previously directed the disastrous Dylan Dog: Dead of Night and the decent TMNT, an animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie) and co-writers T. J. Fixman (writer of the Ratchet & Clank games since 2007) and Gerry Swallow (whose previous offerings have been the dialogue in the atrocious Walking with Dinosaurs 3D and the mediocre Ice Age: The Meltdown) don’t do much to offer anything new here and really only wrote a plot. The characters are relatively flat, mainly only exist to set up unfunny jokes. None of them have any kind of personality except Ratchet, but he’s as much a stereotype underdog as Captain Qwark is the stereotype idiot-in-command-I’ll-punch-it-until-I-win kind of character. Adding to their lack of characterization, the story feels protracted and padded. This is the kind of character dynamic and set-up that would work great as a 22 minute weekly cartoon, with the characters possibly developing over 23 episodes but as a feature film, it feels like they ran out of ideas so they just added another scene of Ratchet getting upset and trying to walk away from his newfound responsibility. Worse than that, most of the jokes fall flat and for something that is ostensibly an action/comedy, that isn’t a good thing. The jokes that do work are mostly confined to the text introducing each planet we visit, which is usually accompanied by a short joke, and each one of them is actually quite clever. Too bad that spirit and wit didn’t seep into the rest of the script, which mainly goes for obvious jokes that barely got a rise out of the kids in the audience and they were usually the only ones laughing and any of it.
You can pretty much fill in the story yourself because it’s not particularly inventive or original.
Monroe’s direction is quite good, despite the lackadaisical pacing and numerous extraneous scenes. The voice work is quite good and the whole thing looks great. It’s a shame that the script doesn’t live up to the visual effort put into the film and the gusto that the actors, a cast that includes the above mentioned and Sylvester Stallone and Rosario Dawson, put into their parts. Monroe is proving that he’s not a bad animation director and should probably stick to that. He does an excellent job with the action sequences, especially the final sequence against the villains, and his pacing gets decidedly better when those scenes come around. The rest of it suffers from the lack of comic timing (either from the script or from Monroe) and never really gels.
The visuals, like a good cast in an Orson Welles film, deserve a second mention. The attention to detail on the characters is stunning, something the animation department should be proud of. The world these characters inhabit is worn and interesting, even if the actions being performed in it aren’t. You can feel the dust and grit on Ratchet’s backwater world and are mystified by the beauty of the city that houses the Galactic Rangers.
It is often said that you can’t make a good movie out of a bad screenplay and Ratchet & Clank further proves that axiom. Despite the valiant efforts of a stellar voice cast and extremely talented animators, this film barely registers. It’s not bad, per say, but it’s not that good either. Perhaps it’s time for studios and filmmakers to call it and stop trying to make video games into movies. Yes, the stories and animation in video games have risen to cinematic levels, with intricate stories and half-decent characters, but those portions are not the majority of the game and the appeal of a video game is that you control the action and, in some cases, the outcome of the story. That interactive quality cannot be replicated in a film and what we’re left with is often half a movie or an attempt to shoehorn a story that makes sense without gameplay and it rarely, if ever, works. Ratchet & Clank may be one of the better examples of video game adaptations to film, but that only serves to further the point. Video games are a unique form of entertainment and should not be robbed of their uniqueness just to make more money. With Warcraft, Angry Birds and Assassin’s Creed on the horizon, this attempt to make games into films isn’t going away any time soon, so we can just wait and see if this often mishandled sub-genre gets the treatment and renaissance that comic book adaptations did.
Despite stunning attention to detail and a fantastic voice cast, Ratchet & Clank falls flat, proving once again that you can’t make a good movie out of a bad screenplay.