Ratchet & Clank has moments of humor, but is undercut by a generic story and thin characters that fail to leave a meaningful impact.
In an effort to create a new home world for his people, the Blarg, villainous Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) concocts a scheme with scientist Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman) that involves blowing up multiple planets with a powerful weapon dubbed the “Deplanetizier” and repurposing various segments of each to build a new planet. Though the places Drek destroys initially are uninhabited, the president of the Solana Galaxy views Drek’s actions as a threat, and calls upon the Galactic Rangers to increase their ranks so they’re better equipped to deal with the situation. Seeing this as a chance to live his dream of doing bigger and better things, Lombax mechanic Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) goes to try out for the Rangers, only to be turned down when it’s determined he’s too unfit to serve.
Disappointed and facing an inconsequential life working in a garage, Ratchet’s fortunes change when a defected robot escapes from Drek’s factory on a mission to warn the Galactic Rangers of an impending invasion of the populated planet, Novalis. Naming his newfound companion Clank (David Kaye), Ratchet seizes the opportunity to prove his worth and join his hero Captain Qwark (Jim Ward) in the fight to defeat the Blarg and save the galaxy from annihilation.
The Ratchet & Clank film is based on the popular PlayStation video game series, which was notable for its sense of irreverent humor and fun sci-fi action. Out of all the game adaptations Hollywood has coming through the pipeline, Ratchet & Clank was one of the ones with the most potential to deliver an entertaining movie experience, thanks to its setting and colorful cast of characters (both good and evil). Unfortunately, the film fails to deliver on that promise and plays out more as an advertisement for the new PlayStation 4 video game than a compelling work in its own right – despite some solid moments.
Ratchet & Clank is most successful at capturing the tone of the video games, featuring a collection of satisfying gags that riff on well-known film and genre tropes. Its self-referential aspects (most notably the title cards for each new location) give the movie a charm that moviegoers of any age should enjoy. The film knows what it is and doesn’t take itself too seriously, creating a breezy and fast-paced space adventure with flashy set pieces that fans of the games will recognize as familiar. The direct involvement of developer Insomniac Games certainly helps in this regard, as the film gets the look and feel of a Ratchet & Clank game down pat.
However, directors Jerrica Cleland and Kevin Munroe struggle to craft an engaging narrative and only scratch the surface of the classic hero’s journey archetype without digging deeper for some kind of emotional payoff. The screenplay by Munroe, T.J. Fixman, and Gerry Swallow toys with some fascinating ideas and themes (Ratchet adjusting to his fame), but never fully develops them in the long run. As a result, the story just goes through the motions as it progresses from plot beat to plot beat, feeling rushed as it moves towards its conclusion. Even for a movie aimed at kids, the origin story on display is overly-simplistic and stops short of serving up any interesting concepts or lessons, relying more on the collection of creative weapons and action bits to carry audiences through.
This means that for the most part, the cast is largely underserved. Ratchet is presented as a well-meaning protagonist full of heart (despite his shortcomings), and Qwark is a fun spin on the macho, egotistical superhero (even though his overall characterization suffers from the script). Unfortunately, the supporting players aren’t left with much to do, including Clank. Even though his name is in the title, the robot is relegated to the background and is mainly a vessel to deliver exposition and move the narrative along, as opposed to being a fully-formed character who establishes a bond with his Lombax friend. The other Galactic Rangers, Cora (Bella Thorne), Elaris (Rosario Dawson), and Brax (Dean Redman), are thinly-sketched caricatures that fill specific roles for a team, such as the intelligent tactician and trigger-happy warrior. They are entertaining in the moment, but overall do not make a strong impression.
Oddly enough, the villains of Ratchet & Clank may be more memorable than the roster of heroes. Though Drek and Nefarious are portrayed as stereotypical evildoers with motivations of destruction and revenge, they (and especially the Blarg) are responsible for some of the film’s most humorous bits. In particular, Sylvester Stallone is a nice addition as Drek’s robot henchman Victor Von Ion, serving as the “muscle” of the operation. Most of the fun with Victor stems from hearing the icon voice a mindless bruiser hungry for a fight (rather than the character’s actions in the film), but Stallone’s voice over work is a bright spot thanks to the actor’s natural charisma.
In the end, Ratchet & Clank is a run-of-the-mill animated film that doesn’t truly capture the scope and inventiveness of its source material. Die-hard fans of the games may get a kick out of seeing the universe brought to life on the big screen, but there isn’t much for the uninitiated to latch onto. Ratchet & Clank has moments of humor, but is undercut by a generic story and thin characters that fail to leave a meaningful impact. Its ultimate undoing is being more concerned with selling the cool elements of the games (weapons, intergalactic locations) than being a piece of genre entertainment that can stand on its own merits – meaning that what could have been a fun ride is a largely hollow enterprise.
Ratchet and Clank runs 94 minutes and is rated PG for action and some rude humor.
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