By Hugh David.
Chairman Drek is hell-bent on destroying every planet in the Solana Galaxy. Nobody can stop him… except maybe two incredibly unlikely heroes: a cat-like Lombax and Clank, a robot assembled by mistake. Luckily them, or possibly unluckily for everybody else, they’ve somehow acquired a planet-destroying weapon of their own, joining forces with Quark and his Galactic Space Rangers to save the universe from evil. What could possibly go wrong…?
Fourteen years from the original Ratchet & Clank game, and following a PlayStation 4 remake, Sony have taken the characters to TV with the excellent Powers, and now to the cinema with a 3DCG animated feature: it’s Ratchet & Clank, the movie.
Well-known to gamers, but largely recognisable in the manga world from its 2005 Japan-only comic version, the titular heroes here are reunited with the Galactic Rangers from Up Your Arsenal, adding to the humour by giving the creators another stick to beat film and game clichés with.
Original creators Insomniac Studio have been heavily involved with this new feature throughout, as well as working on that new PS4 version; that’s as rare for movie adaptations of games as for anime versions of manga… Produced by Rainmaker Entertainment, Blockade Entertainment and Chinese film & TV producers CNHK Media, the film takes great pains to offer the same all-around appeal to the different age groups who play the games. At its best when aimed at the tween market, it still packs in enough moments for the older generations, replicating the world and the frequently cynical or parodic sense of humour of the original. This is perfectly encapsulated in the U.S. tag line “Get Ready To Kick Some Asteroid!” This clearly stems from Insomniac’s direct involvement: former Senior Games Writer at the studio T. J. Fixman provided the story; original character designer Dave Guertin and mech designer Greg Baldwin reprised their roles; lead animator Dave Guertin and animation director Chad Dezern consulted in their fields; and assets from the games were shared with the animation studio, the opposite of most live-action franchises, where CG assets can be shared with game developers.
While many viewers complained that Blockade’s earlier Heavenly Sword film relied too heavily on the assets, sewing together the animated cut-scenes from the game with additional animation to make a complete movie, such aspects are balanced here with much more of what film audiences might expect of a modern kid-friendly big-screen adventure toon. New characters, scenes and dialogue make this feel like a film, not a game, helped in no small part by a great blend voice actors. The latter include Paul Giamatti, Sylvester Stallone and Armin Shimerman as a big boss, angry henchman and mad scientist, working well together as performers even when their characters don’t. Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson and John Goodman are on the side of the heroes. But fans will be pleased that James Arnold Taylor (Ratchet), David Kaye (Clank) and Jim Ward (Quark) reprise their lead roles from the games, and the film benefits enormously from their long-established chemistry.
In the end, what makes this a fun if lightweight ride is its faithfulness to the source’s name-dropping pop-culture references and satirical sensibilities. P.A.s and PR types do not come across well, for example, and anyone who is old enough to be frustrated by texting-obsessed youngsters will enjoy the constant digs at the villain’s followers (including a brilliant use of the opening scene to double as an anti-texting announcement for the cinema). Blink-and-you-miss-them visual nods abound to Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, The Wrath of Khan and more besides. Game fans will love the stream of recognisable gadgets and guns throughout, but also a brilliant corner-of-the-eye nod to all the rival game franchises early on. But this is a film intended to grab a new generation of fans to the game franchise, rather than merely a grown-up thrill for original fans; think of it as a Final Fantasy Unlimited with the resources and quality of Advent Children rather than a Batman Begins.
Ratchet & Clank is in UK cinemas now.