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.
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.
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.
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.