Ratchet and Clank Review – Up Your (Half)Arsenal

As the bedroom-dwelling fare of my cupboard and shelf may insinuate, I’m a sucker for a platformer. Having had my heart hacked into early-on by Crash Bandicoot 3 and Super Mario Land, I’ve propelled myself (sometimes with very little sleep and surprisingly vocal excitement) into those late-90’s-early-00’s series heralded by many and enjoyed by even more. And Insomniac’s runny, gunny and crudely funny Ratchet and Clank remains amongst the best series to grace the early noughties. The 2002 original was something of a breakthrough for Insomniac; whilst evidently encumbered with slow character controls and dysfunctional aim system, the series introduced a wry wackiness to the third person shooter. What a shame its silver-screen counterpart contributes no similar notabilities, for it wears its faults on its sleeves whilst keeping its redeeming features firmly out of reach.

Ratchet and Clank grin

Like its interactive better-half, the film reimagines the story of 2002’s shooty-platformer. Ratchet and Clank’s opening moments extend the spanning Solana Galaxy, complete with fizzling subtitles alluding to their various names (Novalis, and so on), before cutting to the first recognisable mug of the series. Chairman Drek – here named Alonzo Drek – plans to explode the populated planets of the galaxy by way of his own personal ‘De-Planetiser’, in order to use the fragments to fashion his very own, perfect planet to house his race, Frankenstein-style.

The rest of the film overlooks the evolution of the plucky, co-titular Lombax, Ratchet – from humble mechanic to hands-down space hero. Ratchet’s attempts to join the Galactic Rangers to help fend off the repugnant Drek are repeatedly shot down by the hopelessly self-enamoured Captain Qwark. Only after a defective repairbot – the scientifically-minded Clank – flees Drek’s intergalactic clutches to promptly crash on Ratchet’s home planet does life turn around for the Lombax mechanic, and between the bot’s logical mind and Ratchet’s tail-to-the-wall bravado.

Visually, the film endeavours to match the clear-fibred looks of the various animal-folk native to other recent animated ventures such as Zootropolis, the intergalactic realms of Ratchet and Clank‘s toonish multiverse is stunningly reformed and remastered, but without the luxury of exploring such a dimension oneself, these worlds can’t help but feel a little alien – and not in an literal, Blargian way.

Ratchet and Clank Space

It sounds much like the premise of a Ratchet and Clank game (something no doubt intended), but over the course of my hour-and-a-half sitting I found myself surprised at just how little Ratchet and Clank the film actually contained. Many moments in the film feel like wasted opportunities to be funny, shoehorning in hyper-relevant social media jokes when a brief cameo from Skid McMarx or the ubiquitous Lizard vendor would’ve charmed so much more. The game’s most prominent aspect – the voluminous arsenal of wacky firearms – was strikingly missed here, instead merely glossed over in a forced gamestyle montage, with the series’ enemies receiving a similar treatment. Whilst the swarming horde of yoo-hoo­ing Zurkon was a fun little nod, conflicts were lacking, and ultimately left me a little deflated considering jaunty lock-n-loads and varied enemy encounters was Ratchet and Clank’s thing.

Of course, that and its winning proclivity for including as many double-entendres into both gameplay and title as humanly (Blargally?) possible. But alas, these were nowhere to be found either. Considering the heightened awareness many films are showing of their audiences (examples might include the recent LEGO Movie and quite nearly all of Pixar’s films), a little naughtiness can be accommodated in many animated films without being clocked by younger audiences. Given that the film is likely aimed at fans of the original game (who’ve since grown into adults quite possibly proficient in the language of the innuendo), I was expecting at least a smattering of nods to some of the series’ bluer titles (Up Your Arsenal remains a favourite of mine). But the closest we get to a euphemism here is a distinctively bum-rushed narrative. Whilst Drek is entertaining and personable, his actions never garner sufficient purpose or intent to drive his maniacal planetary possession. His prompt replacement by the crazed Dr. Nefarious does little to remedy the situation, furthermore, as the filmmakers merely replace a superficial, yet mildly entertaining antagonist with one of lesser substance and none of the supposed charm. Instead, his actions are allowed to revel in a manic futility, with his actions hurriedly trussed up at the end with an explanation more predictable than a secondary school anti-smoking play.

Ratchet and Clank vomit

One positive that can be said of the film is that its cast proffers the pipes of the original Ratchet and Clank alumni. The film is carried by James Arnold Taylor’s Ratchet, and David Kay’re endearingly nonplussed tone as the quizzical repairbot, Clank. Jim Ward also returns, lending a recognisable buffoonishness as the hopelessly doltish Captain Qwark.
Decidedly not returning in this film-of-the-game however is Kevin Michael Richardson as its iron-fisted tyrant, Chairman Drek. The dastardly boots are instead filed by Paul Giamatti, whose childlike exclamations and Plankton-esque sincerity actually make for one of the film’s most enjoyable moments, if not always attaining the gravelly threat that made Richardson’s Chairman Drek a truly formidable dictator.

Following Prince of Persia, DOOM and the condemnable Agent 47, my past experiences with video game adaptations has been somewhat traumatic, so I almost want to commend the film for its competence as a fun and respectful throwback to the original game- but overall it appeared a rickety patchwork of game cutscenes that had been hurriedly stitched together for release, with the evident gaps left for gameplay sections all but filled in with the cinematic equivalent of a sharpie pen. It’s a shame in many ways; even with low expectations, fans of the series will likely find the tie-in for the Ratchet and Clank reboot superficial and disappointing, but the silver lining here is that there’s always the opportunity to play the film in a better-rounded, cohesive PS4 reboot. Not many films have that luxury.

Deadpool – Meta Go-Getter And Plenty French Letters

If Bertolt Brecht was here to see the trajectory of his alienation principle, he’d either be abhorred or touched. It’s true that I experienced a similar conflict having thrown myself verily into the realms of Deadpool, but sandwiched as I was between unfettered dick jokes and merciless slants at alternate timelines and X-Men budgeting, it was a conflict I began to find stomach-churningly alluring.

It’s fair to say that my recovery from X Men Origins: Wolverine sparked more than a faint tremor of trepidation at the prospect of a Deadpool revival. The mercenary was fiendishly manipulated, leaving the Merc With the Mouth with a distortedly blunted charisma and a questionable lack of…well, mouth.

Deadpool drawing

And Deadpool could well have made made similar mistakes, if it wasn’t for Ryan Reynolds’ cheerful dedication to ensuring the potty-mouthed, katana-wielding mercenary got what he, and his fans, deserved. Deadpool is spiked with irony and pop culture references, and considering its comparitively meagre budget against its Marvel compatriots, it’s a film that vehemently and viciously validates the ‘hero”s seven year haitus from the clutches of the silver screen. From the opening credits’ exchanging production info for slants at Hollywood archetypes, naming the director as ‘an overpaid tool’, and the producers ‘asshats’, to Stan Lee’s delightfully naughty cameo, Deadpool manages to live up to the comic book character’s intended representation, whilst managing to consistently surprise in the process.

Reynolds is Wade Wilson, the sweary chieftan of Deadpool’s bombastic tale, whose abrupt on-screen birth assumes a heated taxi exchange. It soon comes to light that Wilson has been forced to undergo a physical mutation by Ajax, played by Game of Thrones Londoner, Ed Skrein. The protagonist (a term you’ll be truly left to question over the course of the film) embarks on the typical herohood pilgramage, but for a refreshingly selfish vengeance, as opposed to self-appointed gallantry. There’ll be the discernible warring between faculties and hurricanic destruction, with more than its fair share of romantic pursuits. But Deadpool is well aware of these hailed tropes, and it goes to extreme lengths to ‘act out’ between the archetypes.

The spandex-sporting antihero would sooner lop off his hands than join any superhuman academy and amidst his violent penchant for superheroic proclivities, the heroic inner struggle is sumptuously butchered with nonchalant matter-of-factness. Instead, Deadpool hashes together its own Avengers-style tag-team, including all of two Marvel confederates. It feels like they’ve just been thrown in – and Deadpool‘s financially-aware script makes it obvious they have been – but Colossus’ withering attempts to steer the ireverrent Deadpool coupled with Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s excruciating teenie-bopper foibles translate well into Deadpool’s wayward charm, and it’s a joy to watch them squirm against the garrulous surge of Deadpool’s ludicrous world.

Deadpool standing

My mother found a soft spot for the X-Men films, and has committed her evenings mercilessly to observation of Hugh Jackman’s illustrious midsection and Stewart’s luminous scalp; events in which I’d gleefully partake. But I’d be hesitant to add Deadpool to the Saturday night agenda. This isn’t a film as easily adapted for family occasions. Despite Reynolds’ additional crush on the adamantium-boned mutant, there are sharper edges in Deadpool that set it apart from the standard hero flick. It’s a film that swings capriciously from ironical bubblegum cheeriness and unabashed cock shots, to mournful reflections of loss, pain and solitude. And indeed, on occasions such as the origin story, the two palpitate so venemously that I found myself quite unnerved by what I was watching. Contrapuntal soundtracks truly shine here, that’s all I’ll say.

Mostly, however, Deadpool is a litany of churlish arse jokes and perfunctory dismemberment, and in a way that is as superficial as it is juvenile, it’s beguiling. It’s aware; unashamed, and with a comic violence comparable to Tarantino’s exuberant slashiness, it’s an effective action movie that pays homage to the overarching culture Marvel has become. The eponymous Deadpool takes time out from immeasurable baddie-beating to address the audience directly, whilst raising a simultaneous middle finger to corporate claims against the R-rated superhero; a project seldom-visited since Blade’s cult garnerings. Blade is grateful, Reynolds, and perhaps there’ll even be more sweary, adult-themed slaughterfests to follow after the commercial success of 2016’s ladybug-shaded antihero.

Amongst its most alluring elements is its unwavering honesty. Deadpool‘s relentless jabs at his own film’s budgeting renders his would-be-Avengers backup of Colossus and ‘Obligatory moody-teen’ less forced, more endearing, whilst his near-pantomime erection for Hugh Jackman dispenses with the anticipatory anxiety around the film as a panderer to the X-Men franchise. Instead, it’s a cheerfully brutish break from the valiant endeavours of Xavier, or Wolverine; a crazed romp that stands defiantly alone in its adult themes and wry referential tone.

deadpool walking

It knows it’s schlocky, vain and boorish, and it doesn’t care one jot. The very foundation of the love story.

It Looks So Real on TV: Nightcrawler and Perception of Reality

NOTE: Aspects of the film Nightcrawler will be discussed here. Spoilers inevitably follow.

Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir flick, Nightcrawler has been referred to as a spiritual successor to Network, which isn’t an unreasonable comparison. The allure of the screen is perhaps more profound now than it has ever been, with more modes for entering the vast planes of cyberspace becoming available by the year. As Network’s Howard Beale notably proclaims, “the only truth you know is what you get over this tube”, and for all Nightcrawler’s dark quips and slants at corporate diplomacy, there lurks a similar anxiety over the ease with which a population’s personal reality can be contained, and as to what exactly that could mean.

network trouble

Nightcrawler circumnavigates the exploits of Lou Bloom who, upon introduction, is out of work and desperate to make ends meet. He steals from scrapyards and pawns purloined bicycles with the sort of winning smile you might find slapped across an introductory business pamphlet, but soon becomes enveloped in the ambiguous underground of freelance crime journalism after witnessing a burning car wreckage being recorded on the highway. These petty traits will serve Bloom well.

As police officers drag the injured from the flames, Lou hastens to ask one of the freelance reporters – Joe Loder – if the footage will be shown on TV, to which he replies with the crudely catchy, “if it bleeds, it leads”.

It is, incidentally, this line that embodies Lou’s cut-throat mindset throughout the rest of the film, serving as the integral mantra that will drive Bloom’s blackmail of peers, manipulation of crime scenes and ultimate creation of the crime he sets out to capture and sell for local news segments.
nightcrawler lou pink

Nightcrawler mostly opts for a brash, in-your-face attitude towards its characters, but there are instances that allow for interpretation, mostly within the objects Bloom chooses to operate. After hooking a fee with the forewoman of a collapsing news station – Nina Romina – he switches out his battered Toyota for a sparkling Dodge Challenger.

The phrase, “blood on one’s hands” comes to mind when considering the car; a phrase the Dodge seems to satirically exaggerate. The seductive red hue of the car appears luminant against the neon background of nighttime L.A; an abtract projection of the amoral blood coursing through the fabricated veins of the News world; the mere ‘fuel’ in a much larger, grotesque organism.
nightcrawler dodge
This insinuates a darker undertone beneath the already blackened humour, by allowing some degree of innocence to permeate Bloom’s predatorial mindset across the film. After breaking into homes and capturing voyeuristic footage of various hostile aftermaths to sell, Bloom’s efforts are reinforced by Nina, as the footage is nip n’ tucked to allign with her own company hallmark, “think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

This is especially ominous as it doesn’t just allude to the malleability of human perception via the media, but potentially frames Lou Bloom as a product of his surroundings. Maybe he’s a bad guy. But so is everyone else.

nightcrawler lou screaming

Survivor? Monster?

It’s a concept that elicits memories of the Oppenheimer documentary The Act of Killing. Here, perpetrators of the 1960’s Indonesian genocides are captured reenacting their crimes in the style of their favourite films. The film attracted a notoriety (even being termed a ‘snuff film’ by BBC broadcaster Nick Fraser) for apparent lack of information and insinuation of cruel acts.
taok1
But amidst the grinning surreality of the perpetrators’ disquieting play, it is the indubitably present humanity within the focal war chief, Anwar Congo, that irradiates the true horror. Charming sequences of Congo playing with his grandchildren are in as abundant a supply as his jovial accounts of his murder techniques, and both interweave with a notably comparitive intent.

The Act of Killing‘s conveyances evoke the Nazist alternate reality Philip K. Dick envisioned in The Man in the High Castle, the brutes hailed as war heroes; the victims shruggishly dehumanised, often inviting the viewer to question how much perception of one’s actions can be dominated by a society, and how subjective notions of morality, and reality, really are.

And because they’re subjective; malleable, anyone could commit those atrocities, amongst certain surroundings. That’s a very unsettling thought, to say the least.
taok
Nightcrawler reflects a similar concern, instead against the neo-noir backdrop of Western L.A. Another prime difference is that the platform for moral discussion surfaces more within the off-screen possibility, than the depicted ‘protagonist’. As we observe Bloom dragging lifeless bodies to frame his destructive shots; deliberately witholding information from the authorities in order to orchestrate a juicier story, there is all the while a persistent speculation as to how all this must appear to the everyday audiences that tune in to news stations to (as Lou once claims) “stay informed”.

We perceive in Nightcrawler a manmade reality; something that reacknowledges its inspiration by Network, and something that bears perhaps a stronger significance now more than ever.With ‘leaked footages’ surfacing every so often online – with little certification of authenticity – perhaps the portrayal of an ‘absolute reality’ on-screen is becoming more and more problematic. If this is so,  considering the unremitting pull of the ubiquitous ‘tube’ today, how much of our understanding of the world is real, how much of it synthesised? And is one of those necessarily better than the other?

Inside Out: I Feel So Far Away..But There’s The Big Picture

NOTE: Spoilers for Inside Out follow.

Inside Out didn’t feel like a Pixar movie. After first watching it, there was something about it that just felt cold, and distanced. This isn’t to say that the movie was devoid of that  familiar approach of whimsical meaning; in fact, Inside Out is abundant in the touching messages that have come to encapsulate Pixar over the years, such as love, individuality and solidarity amongst the ones you love. And when compartmentalised, Inside Out seems comprised of all the ingredients of previous Pixar movies. When watched, however, it becomes strikingly apparent that Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen were following a different recipe.

inside out screen
What surprised me most about the film was how alienated I felt from the rich and wonderful reality Pixar usually offers. The world depth of Inside Out is contrastingly contained, as we perceive the realities of Minnesota and San Francisco by way of a screen denoting Riley’s vision. In the first moments of the film, we see the birth of Riley through the coincidentally delivered Joy and her awareness of the world through the mind’s observatory window, this distance all the while making it cogent that this is very much a story about our mind, and our experiences.
In turns out that Joy, in addition to a spring in her (and Riley’s step), has more control issues than Marie Barone of Everybody Loves Raymond. Of all the emotions, Joy has known Riley the longest, and as such assumes that things are naturally better when the rose-tinted glasses are kept on. She, “has no idea” what Sadness does, but actively seeks to sideline her, for fear of making Riley upset.

doris roberts

Okay, maybe not quite as many control issues as Marie Barone. And a little less menacing.

Much, if not most of the film, is devoted to Joy’s character development. The more she and Sadness traverse the inner workings of their host’s (un)consciousness, the more she begins to realise that she can’t do all of this on her own. Riley can’t be happy all the time. All the while, we’re watching the effects all these things have on Riley, through both her emotions’ screen and within her own contained environment. This constant switching between worlds; the profound, psychological referential tone was part of what made it difficult for me to really connect with Inside Out’s characters, but equally what brought me to realise that that detachment is what drives it as a metaphor for its audience.
Although Joy, much like a caring mother, only wants Riley to be happy, she finally allows Sadness to affect Riley, in order to receive comfort and reassurance from her parents. Consequently, Riley’s unhappiness transpires as a vital role in our development as human beings, and the distance created between the world of the film, and the audience, makes this concept easier to comprehend in terms of our own experiences. It turns out that sadness has a knack for asking for help when we truly need it, and Inside Out teaches that asking for help when we’re suffering is something we shouldn’t feel burdensome about.

hugging
On their travels through the numerous memory banks of the bordering adolescent, Joy and Sadness encounter Bing Bong, who arises as a figurehead of one of the central messages of Inside Out.
A lot of what Bing Bong is is pure nostalgia. He’s undoubtedly a creepy-looking chap, and it’s trying to deny that he resembles the result of what years out of work did to the Cheshire Cat, but the sheer amalgam of his character captures well the impulsive nature of the child mind. Three year old Riley’s hotchpotch creation is a comforting jumble of favourite things, that had me harkening back to my own kindergartenous inventions, as opposed to, again, really engaging with the world of Bing Bong. Maybe I’m a violent egocentric.
However, this state of mind did set me up for one of the most heartbreaking, yet uplifiting scenes in the film.
After Joy and Bing Bong are cast into the void of the ‘Memory Dump’, Bing Bong decides to remain forgotten, whilst emploring Joy to resurface and  “Take her (Riley) to the moon for me”. Whilst this captures the necessary sacrifice in order to feel happiness again, Bing Bong’s evaporation represents Riley’s drift from imaginary dependence, which will ultimately allow her a better connection with the world when it comes to obtaining goals.
In so many animated films, the sacrifice of such innocent characters is seemingly blasphemous. In Monsters Inc. I couldn’t help but feel that Sully’s severance with Boo, firstly argued to be for the best (“kitty has to go”), was rendered obsolete by the reassembly of her door at the end. Perhaps in other family films, the ‘Riley’ might’ve still come to accept her impending maturity, without making sacrifices like letting go of Bing Bong, but the fact that Inside Out doesn’t appear to promise that things will always be A-okay forever validates the theme of emotional honesty better than any of Pixar’s prerequisites do. Even when Joy replies in the Memory Dump scene, she whispers not “I will” but, “I’ll try”, because that’s all any of us can do.

Bing_Bong_crying

And so the cinema became ripe with sniffles.

Although Inside Out is something of an odd cousin in the Pixar family tree in terms of how story and world is presented, the film is still, unmistakeably Pixarian. It communicates that yeah, this is what life is about. You’ll make sacrifices. You’ll lose touch with ideas or desires that you once had (another example is brought up by the comic scene in which the mother imagines her marriage to a Portugese smooth-talker: “Come fly with me, Gatinha!”). But you’ll also make sacrifices that were worth it (such as Riley’s sacrifice of her joyful exterior to accept help from her parents at the end), and without those things you wouldn’t be who you are now. Unlike the trite optimism often expected of animated films, Inside Out doesn’t explicitly promise anything; it just accepts that feelings are what generate our sense of humour, our family and friends, our interests and our honesty (reflected by the various islands of Riley’s personality), and whatever does happen will allow those respective islands to develop. It’s when we stop that things decline.

inside out goofball island
The world of Inside Out isn’t as involving. Docter swaps out wacky invite for the familiarity of life, which makes the viewer’s understandings and interpretations much more vital to Inside Out than to previous Pixar films, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just reinforces that this one is more about how the story is told, and what that means.