The Ratchet & Clank franchise has always made me think of the world of CGI animated film. When the original game debuted in 2002, many related it to a Pixar movie due to its fun characters, alien worlds, and attractive, colorful visuals. After the franchise continued to find success, an animated film adaption seemed guaranteed. It took a little while, but it finally happened and it’s in theaters now. But it’s not a film I eagerly recommend.
My daughter is four and not familiar with the games, but was enamored by the initial trailers for the movie. When I brought the latest game home, she was excited to play it with me and frequently asked when we could see the film. I bring up her excitement because one of the most damning things I can say about Ratchet & Clank is how little she reacted while watching it in the theater. She laughed maybe twice, didn’t ask any questions about what was happening, and just sat there stoically, carefully munching on popcorn. She said she liked it as we were leaving, but hasn’t mentioned the film or asked any questions about it since leaving the theater.
A four-year-old’s second-hand review aside, the movie’s big problem is it feels sterile. None of the characters are particularly attached to their motivations, and all of the jokes feel forced. The most engaging characters are the titular Lombax and robot, but they don’t change at all during the film. It hints at a lesson about the danger of seeking fame for the sake of fame (a worthy course for young, modern viewers) as Ratchet’s popularity in the world skyrockets after saving the city, but it never amounts to anything. The duo are stars of the film almost exclusively by virtue of screen time. The only character who seems to have an arc is Captain Qwark, and his lesson about loyalty is severely undercut by his tired shtick. He is a one-note character – and not a particularly funny one.
Ratchet & Clank also does nearly nothing in the way of setting up plot devices to be later explored, despite myriad opportunities to do so. A montage of Ratchet using weapons early on while training could have easily been used to set up a fight later, but during the final confrontation Ratchet pulls a collection of weapons and items from seemingly nowhere. Another squandered opportunity to set up a premise is related to the movie’s most imposing villain, the evil robot Victor Von Ion, voiced by Sylvester Stallone. His weakness is both revealed and executed in the same scene. It’s a small plot point, but one that shows each scene feels as though it was developed on its own, without any regard for the grander vision.
The film does get Ratchet & Clank and their world right, even if the versions we see here are not particularly interesting. The specific nods to the game are also done in a non-obtrusive way that won’t distract newcomers, but will give fans something to keep an eye out for. Also, a blink-and-you-miss-it reference to Jak & Daxter and Sly Cooper appears, and it was nice to see the acknowledgement of Ratchet & Clank’s peers.
Should You See Ratchet & Clank?
You’re better off playing the new game. The movie feels like an extension of the universe, but a very bland chapter that reveals nothing about the characters you don’t already know, regardless of your history of the games. The film demonstrates a clear understanding of the experiences that birthed the franchise, and from an optimistic standpoint it makes me think maybe the days of cheap Uwe Boll-style film adaptations of game franchises are behind us. Taken as a film though, and not a qualified adaptation of a video game, Ratchet & Clank does nothing to make the characters more appealing than they already are in video game form.