Of all the things that it could have been, the Ratchet and Clank movie is a huge disappointment. The Playstation exclusive video game series has been around since the start of the new millennia with developer Insomniac Games providing an extensive library for the filmmakers to choose from for inspiration. Sadly, the movie plays as if Writer/Director Kevin Munroe never even spoke to those that created our furry Lombax Ratchet and his robot pal Clank or even played the games that they featured in. This is a dull and nearly lifeless representation of the world and the characters I fell in love with back in the first video game from 2002.
Acting as a sort of reboot/re-imagination of the story from that first game, Ratchet and Clank tells the story of an orphaned Lombax mechanic who leaves his humble beginnings to become a member of the Galactic Rangers in order to save the galaxy from the evil Blarg race and their leader, Chairman Drek; actually pardon me, that’s Alonzo Drek, voiced by Paul Giamatti, (I’m used to the original game’s names and locations). Drek has created a dastardly weapon with almost the exact same power as the Death Star, but instead of just destroying planets, he is harvesting bits and pieces of them in order to create the perfect planet for himself and his race. The Galactic Rangers announce a series of tryouts in order to find a fifth hero to join their ranks. Ratchet takes this as his opportunity but is shut down immediately by the obnoxious and arrogant leader of the Rangers, Captain Quark, who cares more about how many fans he has than the protection of the galaxy. It takes a defect from Drek’s robot army factory to provide Ratchet with the urgency to fly to the Ranger base and warn them of Drek’s evil schemes. That defect is Clank, our small, analytical, and quirky robot sidekick. With our heroes together, the two go on to save the galaxy from Drek, and the real villain behind his schemes, Dr. Nefarious, another famous Ratchet and Clank villain.
As a fan of the video game series, I knew I was going into a film that was going to have a lot of tweaks and changes to the origin story of our heroes. I was ready to accept these changes because it was time for a refresher with these characters. While I was largely okay with the narrative beat adjustments for Ratchet and Clank, there just wasn’t enough, much less any, humor or fun to be had along the way to make this adventure worth experiencing. While my screening of the movie wasn’t packed by any means, there were a fair number of kids in the audience. Not one of them ever laughed. At least not audibly, that is for sure. The only laughter I heard was the odd chuckle from myself and another pair of twenty something year old guys sitting a couple seats away from me. Even on that level, I can’t really credit the movie for making me exude that chuckle. It came from all of the previous experiences I have had with these characters over the years. Certain scenes would remind me of their original counterparts and I sat there in my seat longing for the chance to be at home so I could turn on my old Playstation 3 and play the remastered version of the original game.
I was also longing for a more focused narrative. The film sets up Alonzo Drek as our main villain but then abandons him in order to have Dr. Nefarious take over the spotlight. This fails the movie as we never get a meaningful backstory for either character. Instead there is a “blink and you miss it” exposition monologue that lasts for no longer that thirty seconds each. It is utterly hallow, and it comes across that way on screen. My question to the filmmakers is why have both in here at all? In the games, Drek and Dr. Nefarious were the most compelling villains of the series, so why not fully develop one villain instead of shoehorning two together like has been done here? While it was nice to have original Dr. Nefarious voice actor Armin Shimerman ham it up as he does best, the choice to have Paul Giamatti replace original Drek voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson baffles me. While Giamatti is an excellent voice actor in his own right, he is missing the deep baritone notes that made Richardson’s portrayal so menacing and intimidating in the first place.
If there is one thing this movie succeeded at doing, it was in hiring the original voice actors for Ratchet, Clank, and Captain Quark. James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Jim Ward respectively have been voicing these characters for over a decade now and they bring the same level of enthusiasm to their portrayals than they ever have. Sadly, the material is just not up to par. The original games succeeded because they had great writing that was funny and emotionally impactful. The scripts had things you could look out for in order to grab some understated meaning. Almost everything could be looked at for a double meaning that would allude to some more mature humor. While this is a kid’s movie, certain films of recent years, (The Lego Movie, for example), have proven that writers are able to sneak some risque humor that kids can’t or predictably don’t pick up on. This allows for an experience that both parents and kids can enjoy. Ratchet and Clank the movie is unacceptably missing that aspect, which is particularly frustrating when the film’s video game companion, now out for the Playstation 4, succeeds because of it.
If you’re interested in Ratchet and Clank, either as a newcomer to the franchise or a longtime fan, take my advice, play the new game on the Playstation 4 instead of going to see the movie. If it’s any indication, I sat in that theater thinking of all the different ways I could re-write the script in order to make it better rather than paying attention to the narrative unfolding on screen before me.