Sunday 4 December 2016

Ratchet & Clank (2016) - Movie Review
Knowing the track record for video game adaptations by this point, I should have no right to be looking forward to any of them… okay, save for Assassin’s Creed, but all in due time. Until then, we have a theatrical version of a pretty heavily ingrained part of my gaming childhood, one which continues to be awesome to this day. Even considering the PS2’s track record when it comes to platformers, R&C is still one of the most beloved by the fans, myself included. Its creative weaponry, its memorable characters, its utter lack of shame when it comes to toilet humour; Insomnia Games made a serious gem of a series. Have to admit, knowing that most of the original voice cast as well as the writers of the games are helping bring this film to life, I’m genuinely hoping for something good this time around.

The plot: Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), leader of the Blargs, is leaving a path of destruction in the Solana galaxy, with obliterated planets in his wake. Clank (David Kaye), a defective war robot from Drek’s factory, arrives on the planet Veldin to find the Galactic Rangers, led by Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), and warn them of Drek’s next attack. Clank runs into dreamer mechanic Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), whom has always dreamed of being in the Galactic Rangers, and the two set off for an adventure to stop Drek’s evil scheme.

Words cannot describe how satisfying it is hearing these characters that I’ve grown up with on the big screen, especially when they’re done just as well as in the games. Taylor gives Ratchet the usual monomythic hero personality while managing to keep his potential ego in check by keeping him safely on the ground, Kaye’s incredibly dry robot is still funny and still works amazingly well next to Taylor, and Ward’s Captain Branagan-level bravado is kept well intact, making for an impeccably fun performance. Then we get into the newcomers, and even they are done well: John Goodman gives some subtle heart to Ratchet’s boss Grimroth, Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Tong are all good as the Galactic Rangers, and Sylvester Stallone… um… how the hell do I talk about Stallone as a evil robot general without just saying “ALL the yes!”?

Unfortunately, the main villains don’t come out quite as good as the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong, Giamatti works well with the character (or the particular version of the character) that he’s been given, and a returning Armin Shimerman as his chief scientist Doctor Nefarious is as cackling mad as ever. No, these don’t work out so well because, in differing ways, they have been altered from their original designs for the definite worst. Drek’s previously more smoothed-head with those soulless eyes, combined with Kevin Michael Richardson’s cavernous yet smooth vocals, worked brilliantly. Drek’s currently too well-defined and extremely phallic noggin, combined with Giamatti’s delivery and the overcooked comedy he’s been given? Not so much. Nefarious fares a bit better, still having the same mad scientist screech as before, but this is him pre-robot which, while not all that bad per se, just doesn’t measure up to how genuinely intimidating (not to mention hilarious) he was.

The animation studio in charge of the show here, Rainmaker Entertainment, is a company that while most of you probably don’t know by name, you definitely know their work. These guys were among the first real utilizers of CGI on television, giving us shows like ReBoot and Beast Wars: Transformers before mainly working on Barbie tie-ins up until the present day. To put this into perspective, their pedigree is basically built on desperately trying to work past the then-contemporary limitations of computer graphics technology; dated is being generous when referring to their early work. With this production, however, the only aspect that honestly feels/looks dated are the jokes about texting and tweeting, and that’s only because you can literally see the jokes aging right before your eyes. Then again, that’s annoying but it doesn’t detract from the film too much overall. In terms of graphical fidelity, they manage to pin down the visual style of the game, albeit at a higher resolution, and fill it with enough detailing, open space and appropriate blocking to make it cinema-grade.

Even taking into account how this is essentially a reworking of the plot of the first game, which most fans could probably recite to you word-for-word, this is an incredibly predictable and thin plot. In fact, not only is it thin but it’s not even a story about Ratchet or Clank, as far more development is put into the character arc of Captain Qwark. Now, I do kind of understand why they did this: Qwark is ultimately a more entertaining character and R&C 3: Up Your Arsenal (see what I mean about that lack of shame?) gave heaps of development to Qwark and that story was actually pretty cool.

However, it doesn’t so much here because him and Ratchet are essentially given the exact same character path: Dealing with the celebrity of being a hero. Once again, that fits in perfectly with Qwark, but Ratchet? The guy whose running joke is that he never gets the credit he deserves, and the closest he got was having Clank be celebrated instead of him? Copy or no copy, that just doesn’t sit right. Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m spending so much time commenting on fanboy gripes with the film rather than giving it my usual disconnected overview. Well, put simply, this is very much a film meant for the fans and pretty much no one else. It’ll often use series in-jokes like the Sheepinator as plot convenience which, unless you’re the kind of person who can get a kick out of those jokes because you know the source material, will probably annoy most audiences.

All in all, this is a local film for local people, there’s nothing for you here. I mean, this is a film with a post-credits scene solely to reference a recurring joke from the games about plumber’s crack; unless you’re a serious fan of the series, chances are that this film won’t do anything for you. While I give kudos for the voice acting (save for Giamatti, who turns a cool villain into a whiny annoyance) and the well-realized visuals, its limp story, stretches of weak writing and numerous unfavourable changes made from the source material make this difficult to like, as fun and harmless as it is.

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