Just Play the Game, OK? – Ratchet & Clank (DVD Review)

Ratchet & Clank was one of my favourite PS2 franchises. It was the promise of videogames becoming a Saturday morning cartoon show made real. So the prospect of it finally getting its own film instantly made it one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Adding to that anticipation was a series of inspired casting choices. Veteran Hollywood talent like Sylvester Stallone, Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson and John Goodman were given prominent roles in the plot, but even better than that was that Ratchet, Clank, Quark and Nefarious all retained their original voice actors, ensuring the film would feel like an authentic adaptation of Insomniac’s most iconic franchise.

But further investigation left my anticipation flat on the floor. The studio who would make this long-awaited film – a film that could potentially fuel the audience’s desire to see other Sony franchises get the cinematic treatment – would be Rainmaker Entertainment. This maligned studio mostly skirts between limited release and straight-to-DVD offerings. In five years they’ve put out nine Barbie films.

It’s a baffling choice to treat one of your biggest and most popular franchises this way. Especially when the game’s developer, Insomniac, are clearly putting in way more money and effort into the tie-in reboot of the series that follows the events of the film. It’s been heralded as the moment we can finally feel like we are taking part in a Pixar movie. So Sony giving the license to a third-rate animation house, when the gaming equivalent is being compared to the art of the best film studio on Earth, is beyond belief. If you play the game (and I highly recommend you do) you can clearly see when they’ve spliced in frames from the film to go along with the games cutscenes. You can tell when it happens because the quality of animation suddenly takes a massive drop.

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Surely, Sony Pictures Animation could have taken the reigns on this project? It must be at least as viable a property as Hotel Transylvania. Even with their spotty track record, they still made a great film in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. At any rate, they’d probably have done just as good a job as Rainmaker but then at least they could have said that they tried and put a proper investment behind it. Even Escape Planet Earth got double the budget of Ratchet.

Yet, despite the production of the film having more in common with low-budget kid’s fare like Space Chimps or Underdogs, I did find myself enjoying the majority of the movie. They’ve nailed the irreverent, trope-baiting tone. I laughed more than once at some clever, imaginative gags. The characters, while better defined in the games, are still bringing all of the colour and personality that made them so endearing in the first place.

But I am aware that my nostalgia plays a big part of this. While I still think it’s better than some of my contemporaries have given it credit for, it still smacks of being DVD-extra like in quality. The whole film does an adequate job being entertaining, having nice visuals, engaging the audience, but that’s all it ever attains. For me to think of this film as good, everything (except the voice acting, but even then we’re still just talking the original cast) needs to up its game.

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The plot needs refining. When it should focus on the characters, it’s upping the steaks and is pushing for big, impersonal peril, the kind we as an audience have become numb to. The jokes, while funny, are one-dimensional, and don’t have the zing we expect from our animated movies in this post-Pixar world. The characters’ appeal to fans of the originals, but they do nothing to convert newcomers.  The film as a whole will only appeal to children, which is unacceptable considering that fans of the original game are now fourteen years older. Kid’s films need to cater to adults too in this day and age. We deserve bright, colourful and fuzzy entertainment just as much as children do and we demand it, goddammit. It’s as if Rainmaker thought appealing to fans and kids would be enough. It isn’t. If only diehard fans like your movie, it isn’t a good movie. Nostalgia forgives many discrepancies, but only if you are familiar with the source material.

Ratchet & Clank isn’t a good film, or a wholly bad film. It is, however, remarkably below average and that is devastating for fans of the games who know how good the franchise could have been on screen.

2/5

Dir: Kevin Munroe, Jericca Cleland

Scr: T.J. Fixman, Kevin Munroe, Gerry Swallow

Cast: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, John Goodman, Armin Shimerman, Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, Sylvester Stallone, Bella Thorne

Prd: Brad Foxhoven, Kim Dent Wilder, David Wohl

Cinematography: Anthony Di Ninno

Music: Evan Wise

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 94 mins

Ratchet & Clank is available on DVD from August 23rd.