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Ratchet & Clank Review

April 29, 2016 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Ratchet & Clank
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Ratchet & Clank Review  

Directed By: Kevin Munroe and Jericca Cleland
Written By: T.J. Fixman, Kevin Munroe and Gerry Swallow; Based on Insomnic Games’ video game series
Runtime: 114 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some rude humor

James Arnold Taylor – Ratchet
David Kaye – Clank
Jim Ward – Captain Qwark
Paul Giamatti – Chairman Drek
Armin Shimerman – Dr. Nefarious
Sylvester Stallone – Victor Von Ion
Bella Thorne – Cora
Rosario Dawson – Elaris
John Goodman – Grimroth
Alessandro Juliani – Stig
Dean Redman – Brax Lextrus
Lee Tockar – Mr. Micron

Feature films that are based on video game properties have a very muddy history in cinema. It seems while comic book superheroes have gotten into a certain groove to achieve cinematic greatness, fandom’s favorite video game properties have not had any such luck. This has not stopped popular video game franchises from getting licensed for film adaptations, but the results tend to be less than satisfying. One problem a lot of these games face is probably because the style and design of these properties doesn’t necessarily lend itself to live-action filmmaking. Take Sonic the Hedgehog, which Sony Pictures is currently developing for a movie. Trying to develop the world of Sonic the Hedgehog into a live-action world just seems like a recipe for disaster. But then look at the 1990s Sonic the Hedgehog animated TV series, that put the characters into a serialized action-adventure setting, and that concept really worked. Some of these properties simply do not lend themselves to the artform of live-action cinema. Where a film like Ratchet & Clank is able to succeed is that it’s able to maintain a level of visual parity toward its source material. The integrity of the franchise isn’t compromised in order to make concessions toward the realm of live-action. As a CG-animated feature, Ratchet & Clank is allowed to stay within the imaginative and outlandish realm from which the video game series evolved.

The story is a retelling of the orphaned Lombax and working mechanic Ratchet (Taylor). Ratchet dreams of becoming a Galactic Ranger, who are in desperate need of a new recruit. Unfortunately, the meathead leader of the rangers, Captain Qwark (Ward), soundly rejects Ratchet’s aspirations due to his less than sterling record. The villainous Chairman Drek (Giamatti) is going on a planet-killing spree with help from the turncoat Dr. Nefarious (Shimerman). However, it seems one of the robots in the mechanical army they’ve created is a defect, who opts to go rogue and warn the Galactic Rangers. This decidedly more friendly and docile robot inexplicably lands smack dab in Ratchet’s wheelhouse. Ratchet dubs the friendly robot Clank and hopes to utilize Clank’s intel to get into the Galactic Rangers and become the hero he dreamed of being. For a time, the plan works, but soon Qwark grows jealous of all the attention for the new Lombax recruit, which spells trouble for the safety of the galaxy.

Munroe and his co-writers, T.J. Fixman (a longtime writer of the Ratchet & Clank video games) and Gerry Swallows, have created a very clever script. Chairman Drek’s army of inept Blarg minions is obsessed with texting on their cell phones. The screening for the film was just about a day or so after AMC Theatres announced an initiative to allow cell phones and texting in movie screenings, which was soundly rejected. The comedy does feature some smart inside jokes that older viewers will understand. Specifically, there’s a hilarious twist on the Wilhelm scream. The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that’s been used in films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and numerous others for decades. It’s become a staple for popcorn movies. There is a gag involving the Wilhelm scream here that’s one of the most creative, humorous uses of the canned scream in years.

As a storyteller, Kevin Munroe faithfully adapts the world of Ratchet & Clank. He’s not trying to reinvent the world and make it better. At the time of its release, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within looked so boring because it didn’t look like anything at all that was inspired by the Final Fantasy video game series. It looked like a drab and boring sci-fi movie. There was no “fantasy” style to that movie. Munroe and Rainmaker Entertainment worked closely with Insomniac Games to create a fine visual adaptation for the Ratchet & Clank universe. Rainmaker Entertainment actually utilized Insomniac’s own game assets and design elements to help create the film.

In terms of authenticity, a great deal of the veteran voice-over actors who have played the main characters for years get to reprise their roles in this film. James Arnold Taylor returns as Ratchet, and David Kaye is back as Clank. Their work and chemistry for these characters are utterly charming and distinct, and the producers did not mess with that vibe for this feature. Jim Ward and Armin Shimerman are also back in their respective roles of Qwark and Dr. Nefarious. Granted, some bigger name celebrities are spread out through the cast here, but they are playing the roles of most of the supporting players. This is not so bad in the case of Giamatti’s vocal performance for Chairman Drek, or even Bella Thorne as Cora. Giamatti actually has a great and lively voice that fits the insanity of the Drek character well. Thorne, who has performed voice-over and animation work before, actually asserts herself well as the militant ranger Cora. At least it’s not as painfully unnecessary as shelling out extra dough to get Charlize Theron narrate the prologue of Astro Boy, or Laurence Fishburne doing a pointless voice-over sequence for Munroe’s 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles CG-animated movie.

For the CG animation, Ratchet & Clank looks visually strong and on par with most feature animation released. However, in specific parts, select background characters and featured extras don’t look quite as detailed and smooth as others. That aside, as a film that likely had to outsource a significant chunk of its production, it comes off very well. Rainmaker achieves some impressive visual effects and design elements between the alien technology, interplanetary worlds and space battles. Ratchet, Clank and the other main characters do look nicely detailed and textured.

Where the film does have less success is the script does get a tad predictable at times. The narrative tends to follow very familiar beats and low-points that the hero has to ascend from. This film is aimed at younger viewers, and it’s fine. But this style isn’t as effective through peripheral and pedestrian characters such as Grimroth (Goodman).

Ratchet & Clank proves that video game movies can have some measure of success. The film finds a nice sense of verisimilitude to its source material by not worrying about how feasible the concepts would work in a live-action setting. Munroe and his team have created a story that’s very true to the video games series. It’s a clever script that also has fun with incorporating video game concepts and tropes.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Ratchet & Clank works remarkably well in translating the adventures of the characters onto the big screen. The film has a fun sense of humor and sense of adventure. The film has a great thematic message about the meaning of heroism, and a colorful cast of diverse, amusing characters. The villains are actually funny, and the film actually does have some amusing, topical send-ups. If you are a fan of the games, I'd also advise you to stay through the credits.