I’m a big fan of Insomniac Games’ RATCHET & CLANK series. I played through them all on the PS2 and grew very attached to the characters, the high-octane action and the knowing sense of humour throughout. This year the original game was remade and tweaked to tie into the duo’s big screen debut and the result is…mixed. I really like the new game and it gave me the same thrills as the original with added polish and even more knowing jokes. The film, sadly, is a different matter.
Lombax mechanic Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) teams up with warbot defect Clank (David Kaye) to stop the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) from tearing apart the galaxy to create a new planet for his species. The duo join the heroic Galactic Rangers with the hope of enlisting the help of charming superhero Captain Quark (Jim Ward) and set out on a planet-hopping adventure…
Some jokes don’t really work on the big screen, no matter how tongue-in-cheek they are trying to be. The introduction of Chairman Drek is proceeded by onscreen caption “Cue bad guy speech in 3…2…1…”. Just because you’re pointing out that something is clichéd doesn’t make it less so when you do exactly the same thing. The game’s action and puzzle-solving sequences were broken up by witty infomercials for key characters and locations and these routines were brief and snappy enough to be really amusing. Stretched out this humour becomes rather laborious, like Douglas Adams read aloud by someone who doesn’t understand Douglas Adams.
OK it’s quite funny that in a throwaway gag Ratchet seems to be taking video exercise instructions from a Cylon, and that the Galactic Rangers are protecting the galaxy by increasing their number from four…to five. Captain Quark’s recruitment drive opening with “You may have not prevented Dr Nafarious from rendering the entire population of Naridia colourblind…twice” raised a smile, as did the death of a henchman and a high pitched scream followed by his friend’s anguished screaming of “Wilhelm!”.
A late in the game plot twist and a key character’s arc is somewhat ruined by how it’s handled here. Being, in theory, “a kids movie”, any character ambiguity, contradictions, complexity, interest must of course be exorcised so as not to confuse the little tykes.
The action, though as colourful as the game’s character and environment designs, is pretty basic stuff. About the only big scene of note has Ratchet and Quark rapidly cycling through some favourite ridiculous guns from the games. The problem is that Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks have the bar so high in terms of animation quality. Ratchet and Clank looks like what it essentially is – a (very) extended video game cutscene.
Jim Ward is about the performance worth turning out for, which is to be expected as he has been playing the all-encompassing blowhard Captain Quark now for fifteen years. Returning players from the game James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye are decent as our duo of heroes but I think struggle to carry a whole film. I can see why they enlisted John Goodman to play Ratchet’s grouchy garage boss, but Sylvester Stallone’s hulking henchman hardly features and Paul Giamatti’s cheque for playing Chairman Drek was apparently sent to the wrong actor, and I’d love for that to have not been an accident.
The search goes on for a decent video game to film adaptation. In their journey to the big screen, Ratchet and Clank have lost wit, energy and fun. This is just further proof that video games worlds only entertain when you’re an active participant in them. As any regular gamer will tell you, this is not a medium to be passively received, and just watching gets old fast. SSP