Movies based on computer games aren’t, it’s fair to say, covered in glory. The sadly departed Bob Hoskins said Super Mario Brothers was the worst thing he ever did and it’s likely that if you’ve seen Street Fighter or Doom you also wish you hadn’t bothered. Those are movies which use the original game as a sort of kickstart which they soon leave behind. What we have with Ratchet & Clank on the other hand is a movie which doesn’t actually stray that far from the game at all. Being made with the company behind the games it actually just seems to be a fixed narrative version of something you might play. Now I’ve never played the game, but having watched the movie I caught an advert for the game itself. That advert had footage of it being played, and I realised large action sequences of the movie are just based on levels contained within the game. They are rendered at far higher resolution, but essentially the movie of Ratchet & Clank is like an entertaining version of watching someone else play the game for you.
And it is entertaining. Mildly. The script is full of just enough snark and mockery of sci-fi and action movie conventions to appeal to a surprisingly broad audience, but with none of the emotional heart of something we might expect from Pixar. If you’re invested in these characters, you probably already know them from playing one of the several games in the series.
It’s an interesting crossover. Based on the recently rebooted for PS4 Ratchet & Clank game series, the first draft of the screenplay was actually written by T.J. Fixman, a longstanding member of the writing team of those games. A great deal of the voice cast from the game make it to the big screen too.
Our heroes are Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), a furry mechanic with a mysterious past, and a broken robot called Clank (David Kaye). We follow them as they get involved with the Galactic Rangers to battle the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and his Deplanitzer raygun (a sort of Death Star which breaks up planets into smaller more manageable pieces). There are some fights, some chases, some mild peril, but nothing particularly new. There is a nagging sensation all the way through that you’ve seen the movie before. A sort of creative déjà vu.
The main thing the film has going for it is that it is funny. There are some lovely little throwaway one-liners and bits of silly visual humour. But those tiny moments aside it is completely unmemorable. It may have a starry cast including Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson (who has nothing to do) and John Goodman (who is really slumming it here after playing Sully in both the Monsters Inc films) but they can’t do much to lift the movie higher. It’s sort of pleasurable and then it’s over. Existing without that central emotional heart the film becomes completely ephemeral. It’s fun while it lasts, and no more.
Ratchet & Clank is out in cinemas now.