In the long and ignominious history of video-game-to-film adaptations, Ratchet & Clank may be the movie that sticks closest to its source material. It respects the game, paying homage constantly and following the tone and style of the PlayStation platformer series beat for beat.
it's hard to see this ho-hum film coming out on top
How strange, then, that this adherence to its roots actually ends up being something more of a curse than a blessing.
As in the game it's named after, Ratchet & Clank tells the story of a lombax (a sort of cat-fox-human hybrid) named Ratchet (voiced by James Arnold Taylor). Ratchet's boring life on a sleepy planet is interrupted when a robot named Clank (David Kaye) crash-lands nearby and warns Ratchet of an impending plot to take over the galaxy. Ratchet turns to his childhood hero and leader of the Galactic Rangers, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward) to save the day.
If you've played the first Ratchet & Clank game back in 2002 or its recent PlayStation 4 reboot, then you know exactly where this tale is going. There's one particularly important twist that I won't spoil for those unfamiliar with the franchise, but for the most part this is not a story that's going to surprise you. It's a classic hero's journey, interspersed with some beautiful sci-fi visuals and a lot of hokey silliness.
Humor has always been a key element of Ratchet & Clank, and that's where the seams start to show in this adaptation. You see, Ratchet & Clank the movie ... just isn't very funny. Its cleverest moments are mostly cute visual gags, such as when big bad guy Chairman Drek's (Paul Giamatti) henchmen resume texting on their phones every time the boss turns his back.
The dialogue itself rarely elicited even a giggle. It often falls back on a character doing or saying something stupid and then another character grinning at the camera and saying "REALLY?" That's the joke.
The common defense will be that this is a kids movie, and those are exactly the kind of jokes a child would probably laugh at. As the father of a two-and-a-half-year-old who's currently wildly obsessed with Ratchet & Clank specifically, I'm sympathetic to that argument. But when Ratchet & Clank's film competition is the whip-smart writing of Pixar films, the stirring compassion and memorability of Disney's catalogue and even the market-dominating cuteness of Dreamworks and Universal, it's hard to see this ho-hum film coming out on top.
One thing Ratchet & Clank does deserve credit for is being gorgeous. Rainmaker Entertainment may not be a major name in the world of computer animated film, but it has produced some stunning, detailed and evocative sci-fi looks here. The various worlds Ratchet and his robotic buddy visit throughout the film have a livelihood and playfulness to them that made me wish we were spending more time there, or seeing more of them.
Sadly, the back half of the film focuses mostly on a boring space station setting that gives the animators very little to work with. The climactic payoff looks great, though, as do the many other explosions and space-based dogfights throughout the movie.
Ratchet & Clank fulfills everything you might expect from one of the games in the franchise, but I was fascinated seeing how unsatisfied that left me when I didn't have a controller in my hand. As game-to-film adaptations go, it's an inoffensive and even very respectful iteration. I just wish it didn't feel like watching a bunch of the game's cutscenes stitched together for 90 minutes.