Hollywood loves to follow the latest hot film trends. All it takes is one idea that becomes successful for everyone else to go with the theme. Over the past decade we’ve had a run of penguin movies, superheroes everywhere, just about every YA book getting an adaptation especially if there were multiple titles in a series, and way too many remakes with a twist. Now cinematic universes are all the rage. What’s next? Video game movies maybe? Wikipedia lists 30 films adapted from video games over the 22 years from 1993 to 2015, or an average of about four movies every three years. However, in the next 13 months alone, six video games movies are on the slate (Ratchet & Clank, Angry Birds, Warcraft, Resident Evil, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted) with at least four more in various states of production coming later (Dragon’s Lair, Tomb Raider, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sly Cooper).
Almost all those trends were kicked off by a successful film or two that spurred the rest of the studios to go forward with their copycat ideas. But with video game movies the question is what successful idea is kickstarting this trend? Looking back at the Wikipedia list of past video game films shows not a single one of the 30 movies scored 45% or better on Rotten Tomatoes. And only a third of them crossed the $100 million mark. Just five made it to $200 million. So whether this upcoming stampede of video games films will be a lasting trend may depend on how well the first crop of titles does. Starting things off is Ratchet & Clank.
Ratchet is a mechanic who longs for adventure among the stars. When he learns that the Galactic Rangers are coming to his home world looking for a new recruit he signs up, but is unceremoniously rejected by their egomaniacal leader Captain Qwark. Meanwhile, at a warbot factory a defective unit is discovered on the assembly line and marked for destruction. Escaping his fate, he is eventually rescued by Ratchet, who names him Clank. The miniature robot has information vital to the Galactic Rangers about his creators, so the two set off on a journey to get it in to the right hands.
My wife has been a long time fan of the Ratchet & Clank video game series. So going into the film, I already had a sense of the characters and the style of the writing. Which brings up a good question: does it help or hinder a film when the characters are already so fully formed in the minds of the viewers? In a game like Angry Birds or Super Mario Bros. the characters have no personality, or much of anything else for the audience to latch onto other than gameplay. In this film however, the look of the characters, their nature, the storytelling style, the humor, and even their voices are all known quantities. In fact, the Ratchet & Clank video games are almost interactive movies in themselves compared to more casual play games like Angry Birds. Yes, that gives the filmmakers a leg up on production in a lot of ways. But it also limits how far they can stray from the material without alienating the fans.
The good news is that, story-wise, this feels like a Ratchet & Clank video game. This would easily fit in among all the other adventures the duo has had over the years. The bad news is that this feels like a Ratchet & Clank video game. In a lot of ways the story in a game is just a device to get you from one gameplay situation to another. It isn’t usually the main attraction. If random character A says to go to random location B to retrieve random item C for reason D, the player does so without questioning the quest giver’s or their own motivation. A lot of the movie felt that way as well. The plot wasn’t difficult to follow because it was complex, it was just hard to see why people were doing the things they did. And, in fact, I still don’t know what the villain was trying to accomplish with his evil plan!
A big draw of the video game series is its humor. If the writers could have successfully brought that over to the film intact they probably would have done better with the critics. Because the games are fun and funny! Unfortunately, it feels like Hollywood writers took the jokes written by the game writers and “plussed” it up with that modern, hip humor they think kids love. And it was frustrating to listen to! You’d hear a glimmer of that Ratchet & Clank style writing in a line and then it would be followed by drivel. By the last third of the film I was literally cringing each time. Of all the things wrong with the film, this is probably the least forgivable. The only reason to bring Ratchet & Clank to the big screen is for its writing and humor. If you’re going to substitute that out for your own version, you’re just making your own movie and using the Ratchet & Clank brand to get people in the seats.
The film also had a glut of characters: three to four bad guys (depending on how you count them), six Galactic Rangers, and assorted minions and side characters. In a ninety minute movie, that’s just too many, especially when trying to give each of the first two groups their own storylines and arcs. One bad guy, our two heroes, and Quark with everyone else relegated to background status would have been a better allocation of story resources.
The animation was very well done. Granted, they didn’t have to do as much work on things like character designs and world building since they didn’t have to start from scratch. But for a low budget production, the look and polish of the film was much better than you might expect. And definitely a step up from other films with similar budgets.
For the most part, the voice acting was great. Bringing over James Arnold Taylor as Ratchet, David Kaye as Clank, Jim Ward as Captain Qwark, and Armin Shimerman as Dr. Nefarious from their roles in the video game series was absolutely the right decision, and the studio executives that didn’t give in to the temptation to recast them with bigger names are to be commended! Paul Giamatti did an admirable job with Chairman Drek. Sylvester Stallone was all but unrecognizable as Victor Von Ion; whether that is good or bad I’ll leave to you. Bella Thorne as Cora and Rosario Dawson as Elaris were unmemorable. And John Goodman as Ratchet’s boss Grimroth Razz was just terrible. Apart from the performance, having such a recognizable voice in such an unnecessary part made the audience feel his character was supposed to be important — which he most definitely was not! Goodman was obviously brought in to add some (figurative) heft to the cast list on the poster.
Video game movies may be the next big thing in Hollywood, but Ratchet & Clank is an inauspicious start. If, instead of taking the elements from the games players love and bringing them to the big screen, the studios plan to employ cheats and use the intellectual property to bring in built-in audiences for their lower quality drek, they need to be prepared to get pwned by audiences at the box office. This will be a trend that will soon run out of lives if someone can’t figure out a winning strategy.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
Ratchet & Clank
April 29, 2016
directed by Kevin Munroe