Fri. Feb 3rd, 2023

While video games have been mined as fodder for movies many, many times over the past few decades, there are only a few widely distributed movies that have gone the full CGI route. Maybe that’s because 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within left such a bad taste in moviegoers’ mouths, but visually things have changed in 15 years – both for all-CGI movies and video games.

Today’s gaming systems pump out movie-quality images, a fact the team stands behind Ratchet and Clank must have certainly considered before developing the first feature film under the PlayStation Originals brand. You might have expected that effort to lead with a more popular Sony series, such as a movie about God of war or Not chartedbut Ratchet and Clank does have an edge over that: a scintillating, cartoony style that better suits the full CGI treatment, as opposed to a possible plunge into the uncanny valley with the human characters of those other games. Good news: Gramercy Pictures avoids such pitfalls with a movie that resembles the game (and there’s an affiliate game that resembles the movie).

However, as with any game-related movie, I was wondering just who Ratchet and Clank is aimed at. gamers? Families? CGI junkies? However, after the 94 minute run time, I still had no answer.

Turn down the Quark, please

Ratchet and Clank deals with the origin story of the series, and since the first game on PlayStation 2 didn’t have much of it, the filmmakers made up their own story here. We spend much of the movie with Ratchet, the two-legged, eared hero of the games recast as a young and ambitious Luke Skywalker-type. Stuck on a desert planet, he does mechanical work for a boss, all the while hoping he will one day join the Galactic Rangers team of his universe of superheroes.

He gets his chance when the movie’s biggest villain, Chairman Drek, starts building an army of evil robots, because hey, Ratchet needs something to shoot for near the end of the movie, right? A single malfunctioning robot escapes Drek’s factory and crash-lands on Ratchet’s home planet; Ratchet names the helpful little robot Clank and they set off to prevent a Drek-powered attack on the Galactic Rangers’ home planet.

Sounds like a great starting point to build a kid-friendly adventure movie from, but the first major problem with this movie is that the title is inaccurate. Instead, viewers would be better served if the film was renamed Captain Quark (with Ratchet and Clank)because almost every plot beat revolves around the series’ cocky, self-righteous, and goofy sometimes hero, sometimes villain.

Captain Quark made sense in the video games as an archetypal plot-mover – someone who occasionally showed up and boasted excessively, whether he was a defector or a bumbling ally, before the next action sequence played out. The movie, on the other hand, relies on Quark to move the plot along, and it always does this by making him ignore appeals to reason, emotion, or efficiency, usually without any of the film’s characters successfully calling him out, let alone any humorous beats resulting from his missteps. Imagine if FuturamaZapp Brannigan of ‘s Zapp – a similar but much funnier blowhard – had never had his silly assistant Kif or his main rival Leela react in an amusing way.

Because the filmmakers waste so much time on an unlikely Quark, we don’t see Ratchet and Clank developing as an action duo, which dooms the film’s family-friendly appeal. A few scenes describe Ratchet’s cheerful, fun demeanor (such as when he makes too many repairs to an old man’s spaceship and remarks, “Why fix something when you can improve it?”), as well as Clank’s straight man routine as patient helper. But these character aspects, as little as we see them, appear in a vacuum rather than playing someone else off and giving us some opportunities for fun banter or other illustrative moments. As a result, it’s hard to invest in the two heroes in a fist-pumping, 10-year fashion.

Such as a Sonic movie without spin dash

I was surprised to walk away from the film, also so impressed with the visuals. While the most recent movie-bound video game shines on PlayStation 4, the movie seems to reuse a lot of its resources and cut a lot of visual angles. Fire effects and textures look sloppy. Character models for people in the film’s crowd are constantly reused and duplicated without altering elements such as height, dimensions, or even facial details. And the film’s scenes mostly look bare, with very little architectural detail in the environment that Ratchet stumbles through. When I saw the CGI movies that go straight to video these days, I was surprised Ratchet and Clank looked worse than most of them.

Stranger than that is the sense that these filmmakers haven’t actually played the game in question because while Ratchet and Clank features a number of action sequences, few of which resemble what players have enjoyed on PlayStation systems for over a decade. In particular, the movie never fails to recreate the game’s iconic 3D platforming sensation, which sees you leap across giant worlds and shoot waves of bad guys with increasingly powerful and wacky weapons. We get a montage of Ratchet undergoing weapons training, where he shoots weird weapons in a protected isolation room, and we get a villain showdown where powerful weapons play a part in the conclusion.

Otherwise, the film never mines the games’ holy-cow-it-so-obvious action heritage, nor does it emphasize funny or cool duo actions or attacks from Ratchet and Clank combined. I felt like I was going to one Sonic the Hedgehog movie with no spin dash – and I wasn’t blown away by the sequences in any other way.

Other than that, the movie goes by with a few laughs, a great, funny but malicious voice-over performance by Paul Giamatti as Drek, and otherwise serviceable script and acting all the way through. And if you like fourth-wall-breaking jokes, expect a lot of them, but by the end of the movie, those jokes seemed less like humorous touches and more like cries for help from a production crew who knew how ho-hum this cutscene turned out to be.

There’s nothing hugely offensive here in terms of family-friendly popcorn dishes, but I kept waiting for Ratchet, Clank, or even Quark to have some really likable moments, the kind that would provoke the 10-year-old in me to quote their cheesy lines and recreate their action scenes as I walked out of the theater. They never came. Instead, I just wanted to go home and play the much better video game.

Frame image by Gramercy Pictures

By akfire1

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