Ratchet and Clank (2016)
Directed by: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe
Written by: Kevin Munroe, T.J Fixman, Kim Dent Wilder
Starring: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone
It was a shock for a movie tie-in game to be as successful as Ratchet & Clank has been for the PS4, but it has to come with a price. That price is the movie itself.
Translating a game property into an effective film experience is a difficult prospect, as shown by the many less-than-successful (and worse) attempts to do so: Silent Hill, Max Payne, Final Fantasy, Hitman, Mario Bros.; there are precious few exceptions to the rule. Many game-to-film adaptations fail primarily because they do not effectively utilize what made the game memorable. Although the PS4 reboot of Ratchet & Clank sparked hope for some fans that the movie would also make an impact, it unfortunately fell into the same pitfall as many game movies before it.
Let’s start with what the film does well. Like the games it draws inspiration from, Ratchet & Clank makes good use of the visual technology of its time. While not breaking any special effects barriers, the movie boasts vibrant colors and smooth animation frame rates.
Casting choices were also admirable, with recognizable Hollywood talent lending some credibility with their voices, including John Goodman, Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti and Sylvester Stallone. James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Armin Shimmerman and Jim Ward reprise their roles as Ratchet, Clank, Dr. Nefarious and Captain Qwark from the games (Mikey Kelley voiced Ratchet in the first game and was replaced by Taylor for all subsequent titles). Every actor pulled their weight with respectable performances, especially Taylor’s delivery of some of the more dramatic plot points.
On to what the film doesn’t do so well. The trademark slapstick humor and sight gags iconic of the Ratchet & Clank games is intact in the movie, with some genuine guffaws to be had, albeit somewhat sparsely. Sadly, the jokes that land are handily outweighed by quips and nearly-humorous beats that suffer from poor timing and lackluster dialogue. Many moments felt confused, as if the jokes themselves weren’t sure whether they were trying to make kids in the audience laugh or their parents.
The jokes, in truth, are not entirely unlike those found in many of the games. The difference that makes the games work, but not the film, is the factor of joke fatigue. With the game, players experience the moments of levity and silliness as they are broken up with action, explosions and death-defying adventure in inventive environments. The film doesn’t have this benefit. Audiences are strung along a protracted series of moments of comic relief with precious little in the way of immersion action to relieve the repetition.
If the comedic writing were on a stronger level, the movie may have survived this conceptual handicap. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough wit to prop up the narrative for the entire run time – kid-friendly sensibilities notwithstanding.
Bringing us back to the original issue, this problem could have been partially remedied if the directorial team had channeled more of what made the Ratchet & Clank games special. Namely, the weapons. Aside from a fleeting montage, in which Ratchet clumsily test fires multiple iconic weapons from the game franchise, characters hold – let alone use – a paltry handful of the series’ trademark goofy, over-the-top weapons. Fans of Ratchet & Clank expected guns and likely walked away somewhat let down.
Being a grown man of 25, this writer can’t speak for any children who may have seen Ratchet & Clank in theaters. However, as a long time fan of the games, it can be said that much was lost in transition for the movie to be memorable. It’s possible that Ratchet & Clank, a game oriented mostly to adolescents and young teens, doesn’t quite fit the mold of family-friendly animated features.
There have certainly been worse PG-rated cartoon adventure films, and Ratchet & Clank is not without merits, but it’s clear that the franchise is much better off in video game form.