Ratchet & Clank online movie review - "Take that, culture!"
If there were ever a pitch to be greeted by a nearly universal pleasantly bemused "...oh! Why...?", it's Ratchet & Clank: The Movie. Let's be real.
The Playstation games by Insomniac are stupendous, gleefully destructive fun, but already cinematic enough between gameplay and cut-scenes. Plus, it's roughly a decade too late for the series' peak cultural relevance anyway. Could it be that Sony is further suckling on the Marvel teat, and endeavouring to start their own interconnected PlayStation movie universe (please no)? We do get nods to Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter here. And if you remember them since you've been knee-high to a sand-mouse (as I evidently do), you're probably in the fairly limited demographic who will genuinely enjoy Ratchet & Clank above the age of 10.
Yes, 10 - no 'Rated T for Teen' here. The big screen debut of everyone's favourite Lombax/diminutive robot tag-team skews much younger than the firearms-heavy games, likely to entice a new generation of audience/gamers. Unfortunately, the film suffers heavily for it. In lieu of the games' creatively and cathartically destructive combat and cheeky humour, we're confronted with a slew of sanitized space laser tag, with only some inventive nostalgia punching it up. Even worse: the screenwriters resort to barfing, aliens texting, or repeated use of the word "really ?" as a punchline. There's the occasional sturdy gag that steps it up ("Wilhelm!!" and hat tips to Conan the Barbarian and Ferris Bueller) that speak to the games' wacky irreverence, but even these are generally chortle-worthy at best. Qwarktastic this ain't.
Sure, Ratchet's joys never lay in plot. Still, they've certainly (clumsily) punched up the Star Wars similarities in adapting the first game here, while trimming its sociopolitical critique of corporatism and pollution in Chairman Drek's planetary bricolage (no smarmy PSAs, for one). The pace may be zippy and the animation colourful, but the execution is drearily lazy. Just when the action starts to kindle embers of fun, it's quickly snuffed whenever the film stops to meditate on an overlong double-cross sequence, or 'the true meaning of heroism' (yawn). More irritatingly, while the PS4 calibre animation still looks great on the big screen, the universe itself feels distressingly claustrophobic. For a game series initially applauded for its Pixar level of commitment to surreal, inventive imagery, the action is largely crammed into Ratchet's planet, Veldin (including one canyon jaunt that uncomfortably recalls The Phantom Menace's podracing of all things yikes) and Drek's ship, leaving out the series' flair for world-hopping wonder.
So: is there redemption to be had, or just death by Blargian Snagglebeast? Not so fast, cadets. The movie still retains a huge amount of the games' amiable charm, which hits the nostalgia buttons hard for fans (Yoo-hoo, Mr. Zurkon!), and skirts by as just endearing enough for kids and drowsy parents alike. The action sequences are still tons of fun, even finding a credible basis for the games' weapon switching, which allows for cameos from a gaggle of classic gameplay arsenal (highlights include the Sheepinator, and - yes, it had to be said - the Pyrocitor). This, along with Ratchet's swingshot 'web-slinging', keep the combat inventive and exuberant. It all gets a bit unfocused by the end, with the final space battle drifting into a clanging CGI blur, but the proceedings retain enough discerning silliness to keep the vibe pleasant rather than discordant.
For a film that clearly invested serious money into saddling a stupendous A-list supporting cast into thankless stock supporting roles (you can just make out John Goodman and Sylvester Stallone grunting in the background as 'mentor' and 'thug' respectively), the primary joy still lies in hearing the original voice cast enthusiastically reprise their defining characters. James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye are still delightfully droll as the titular duo, and their camaraderie, comedic timing and banter are still enough to sell even the most tired gags. Jim Ward's posturing buffoon Captain Quark may flit clumsily from plot point to plot point, but he's still bombastically hilarious enough to remain as lovable a doofus as ever, while Armin Shimerman's Dr. Nefarious infuses the film with the energy that only an exquisitely hammy pantomime villain can. The other star inclusions don't fare as well: Paul Giamatti's preening as Chairman Drek is instantly forgettable, while Rosario Dawson mugs desperately for laughs that just aren't there, teetering between 'Generic Strong Female Background Character 101' and 'high-strung nerd'. The film's insertion of too many instantly forgettable 'Galactic Rangers' side characters also feels imbalanced, and steals too much focus from the infinitely more entertaining leads.
"It's about as thrilling as watching someone else play a video game" is normally a movie epitaph. Here, though Ratchet & Clank is lively and charming enough to keep seasoned fans and younger kids entertained, newcomers might start to prefer peeking over the shoulder of a gaming roommate instead. The final irony: the most recent Ratchet & Clank PS4 video game based on the movie based on the video game is apparently fantastic. Play that instead.