A movie-sized version of Insomniac’s hit series, Ratchet & Clank, has been in development for years. Debuting in 2002, the original PS2 classic Ratchet & Clank owed a lot to Pixar, most notably, the first two Toy Story films. Set in the far away Solana Galaxy, the witty wordplay of the dialogue, and the on-point observations regarding pop culture spewed by anthropomorphized aliens could easily have come from the mind of John Lasseter. The bond of friendship between Ratchet, the only Lombax in the known universe, and defective tiny robot Clank is at once new and timeless. And Captain Qwark is, essentially, a snarkier, more doofus version of Buzz Lightyear. So a movie-sized version always made sense.
The film stars the voices of series regulars (James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Jim Ward) as well as Hollywood actors Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, and for some reason, Sylvester Stallone. The release of the movie is also tied to the release of this month’s Ratchet & Clank, the PS4 remake of the original. This makes a lot of sense since the majority of the game’s cutscenes are lifted from this movie. Or is it the other way around? I’ll be honest, at first, this was a bit of a bummer.
I had a fun time seeing the film at an event Focus Features held at Google HQ in Venice, CA. As each guest was made a ranger deputy, you could feel the enthusiasm of the many kids in attendance. Afterwards, Insomniac’s lead game designer and an animator for the film came out to demonstrate how video games and computer animation are done. Fun times all around.
So I was a tad let down when I got home, opened my copy of the PS4 game and noticed the cut and paste job. I’m not sure if playing the game first and then seeing the film will have the same effect, but there it is.
That said, this synergy is also the best way to appreciate both the film and the game. Imagine if Advent Children was made at the same time as FFVII. It’s not a perfect comparison, but you get the idea. The biggest reason that this franchise shines as a game or movie is the two heroes: overly enthusiastic Ratchet and bossy-pants Clank. (Jim Ward who voices the hilarious ego-driven Qwark is still perfect in the role too.)
Sure, playing the game and upping your arsenal with an array of powerful and ridiculous Gadgetron weapons is more fun to actually do, but there’s a wealth of characters in this universe that delight. Even everyone’s favorite conehead, Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman) shows up, albeit somewhat briefly. Back in 2002, imagining time spent just “hanging out” with Ratchet and Clank, even if that meant putting the controller down, was fine by me.
When Chairman Drek (Giamatti) goes on a planet-destroying bender, it’s up to Captain Qwark and his team of rangers, which include Elaris (Dawson) and Cora (Bella Thorne) to take him down. Conveniently, the rangers are also doing a PR stint in search of finding a new teammate after a spot has opened up for reasons I won’t spoil. This is where Ratchet comes in, a would-be galactic hero who toils himself by fixing others' interplanetary spaceships, his only friend being a cranky boss named Grimroth (the reliable John Goodman). Eventually, tiny robot Clank inadvertently meets Ratchet and our team is born.
The plot is fairly standard, "save the universe" stuff, but it’s the humor and quick pace that makes the script work so well. This is by no means as spectacular as the best of Pixar, but I chuckled quite a lot during the movie. I especially liked Stallone as henchman robot Victor Von Ion—a sentence I never thought I'd type. The joy here is seeing our favorite characters on the big screen, and in those terms Ratchet & Clank is a success.
What’s no so great? Well, the humor and topicality can feel dated. Back in 2002, seeing fake news shows in a galaxy far, far away, or the inherent joke of corporate life felt really fresh on a PS2. Corporate culture is still ripe for satirizing (i.e. Tales from the Borderlands), but some of the humor is too broad like the bits about Drek's worker drones who keep getting caught texting. Another issue is that while Ratchet and Clank make a great duo, they spend way too much of the film separated from each other. Last, if you see the film first and liked Goodman and Stallone (as I did), you’ll be let down that their voices are not used in the PS4 game.
Still, overall the Ratchet & Clank movie is a fun matinee for kids, and to a degree, the space ranger in all of us. Here’s hoping a sequel can find a new, original story to tell.