For nearly 15 years, gamers have followed the intergalactic adventures of Ratchet and Clank, two of the unlikeliest heroes in the cosmos. The former is a talented mechanic and the last of the Lombaxes (cat-fox-ish creatures), and the latter a robot with big brains and a pint-sized frame. They’re an odd couple to be sure, but over time they’ve become two of the most iconic, beloved characters in all of gaming.
Now, the duo’s outer-space escapades spill over onto the big screen with Ratchet & Clank, a faithful, entertaining movie adaptation of the heroes’ origin story that retains the quirky humor and inventive shoot-em-up action of the games while taking the story’s scope to new heights. Directors Kevin Munroe and Jericca Cleland have done the original series justice, which is something to be proud about. However, when stacked up against animated action-adventure romps of its ilk like Big Hero 6 and Titan A.E., Ratchet & Clank feels thematically and emotionally tame.
Before they meet, Ratchet and Clank (James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye, respectively, reprising their roles from the games) live as outcasts in search of a greater purpose. On the planet Veldin, Ratchet works at a lonesome auto shop in the desert, his only company being his no-nonsense, lumbering boss, Grimroth (John Goodman). Since he was but a wee lombax, Ratchet’s dreamed of joining the ranks of a famous super-team, the Galactic Rangers, and his chance at glory finally arrives when it’s announced by the Rangers’ muscle-y, self-obsessed leader, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), that the team is looking for a new recruit.
To his dismay, Ratchet’s dreams are unceremoniously stamped out by the meatheaded Qwark, who’s quick to dismiss the Lombax’s diminutive frame and sends him packing. Meanwhile, on the space station of evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), a killer-robot assembly line produces a “defective” unit who flees on an escape pod and travels to Veldin where he plans to warn the Galactic Rangers of Drek’s scheme to destroy every living thing in the galaxy.
After a sky-illuminating crash landing, he’s saved by Ratchet, who befriends the big-hearted runt and gives him the name Clank. Together, they embark on a journey to save the galaxy, eventually joining forces with the mighty Rangers to take down Drek’s army.
The plot is as derivative as it sounds, with every development feeling as if it’s been plucked straight out of the Saturday morning cartoon bin at Clichés ’R’ Us. Triteness is unfortunately all too common in the world of video game storytelling, and in the cinematic arena, its effects are decidedly more distracting.
Thankfully, the terrific character work picks up the slack with Ratchet and Clank’s forged bond–rooted in a shared orphan background–driving the story rather than the telegraphed plot machinations. It’s a genuinely heartwarming relationship, and a lot of its success can be attributed to Taylor and Kaye’s chemistry; they’ve been living with these characters for upwards of a decade, after all.
If anything, their friendship could have used a little more friction to give the story more emotional range. On the periphery, Ward’s Qwark goes through a protracted attitude adjustment that’s well thought-out but sometimes takes too much focus off of the two main heroes, whose journeys are far more compelling.
Without question, the movie’s explosive, candy-colored visuals are its greatest boon. There’s a gonzo flair to the character and environment designs that invokes both Pixar and the edgier end of the ‘90s-’00s cartoon spectrum (Invader Zim, Animaniacs, and the like). As in the games, the action is fast and gun-crazy, with Ratchet wielding all variety of humor-centric weaponry like “the sheepinator,” a gun that turns targets into fuzzy, hapless sheep (literally).
It’s hilariously entertaining stuff, though nothing beats pulling the triggers of these wacky guns yourself in the games, which brings us to the most interesting aspect of Ratchet & Clank. The movie was actually produced simultaneously and in concert with Insomniac Games’ PS4 game of the same name, which is in stores now. The sister projects were designed to be complementary works of art (or commercialism), an unprecedented endeavor (on this scale, anyway) meant to add an extra layer of richness to the experience.
Multi-medium experimentation aside, Ratchet & Clank the movie is a fast, fun, intergalactic jaunt that will surely please longtime fans with the same charms of the original series, though overly familiar plotting will likely underwhelm those taken by the emotional depth of Pixar and Disney Animation’s recent offerings.