Looking at the history of movies based on video games, there are a few basic rules for filmmakers to follow:
The producers of “Ratchet & Clank” ignore the first rule (“Don’t make movies based on video games”), before disregarding rule No. 2 (“Forget that it was originally a video game”) and rule No. 3 (“Cast a major role for Milla Jovovich”).
Does that sound cynical? Then you haven’t spent years watching scores of good game franchises – from “Street Fighter” to “Silent Hill” to “Super Mario Bros.” to “Hitman” – consistently fail to translate on the big screen. Even the movies that fare the best, including the Jovovich-powered “Resident Evil” series, are still cinematically mediocre.
If we were grading on a curve, “Ratchet & Clank” would fare pretty well. It’s by no means memorably atrocious. Instead, its badness has an anonymous quality, ensuring the film will appear on few “worst video game of all time lists,” mostly because no one will recall its existence. I watched “Ratchet & Clank” less than 24 hours before writing this, taking notes throughout, and I can barely remember it.
The film begins with Ratchet, a cat-like alien and spaceship mechanic who wants to be an elite Galactic Ranger. He teams with acerbic droid Clank to fight endless waves of robotic soldiers, while exchanging one-liners with bad guy Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti).
All of the above worked fantastically in the innovative early 2000s video games “Ratchet & Clank” and “Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando.” In a market filled with stonefaced shoot-em-ups and irony-free fights-to-the-death, the storytelling and dialogue from developers Insomniac Games stood out as very smart and witty.
Transferred to the animated film universe of the 2010s, with “The Lego Movie” and one or two Pixar movies every year, these same plot lines and jokes are nothing special. The alien galaxy that looked so amazing in 2002 on the just-released PlayStation 2 seems hastily conceived on the big screen, with a lot of motion but very little depth. Another negative: You can put down a video game any time you want. Once you pay your money, you’re stuck with Ratchet and Clank for 94 straight minutes.
And it’s not a fast 94 minutes. “Ratchet & Clank” unfolds the way time passes at the DMV, or while waiting for a Stephen Curry knee injury diagnosis. There’s a single television episode’s worth of plot in this movie, stretched out into feature length with a series of unremarkable battles.
The positives? My 8-year-old loved it. But he would eat dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for every meal if I let him, so let’s not consider his opinion. Some of the weapons are pretty cool and Clank (voice by David Kaye) is a fun character. Directors Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe don’t seem to be carelessly cashing in. They make an effort to reflect the vibe of the game, which fans will appreciate.
But if you don’t already have a Ratchet and Clank poster on your wall, there’s nothing in this movie that will make you want to put one there. With so many good family film offerings – “The Jungle Book” and “Zootopia” are both still in theaters – this world is best left in the brimming video game movie refuse bin.
‘Ratchet & Clank’
Cast: Voices of John Goodman, Paul Giamatti, Bella Thorne.
Directors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe.
Running time: 94 minutes.
Rating: PG (action and some rude humor).