By Travis Trombley
Yet it seems directors Kevin Munroe and Jerrica Cleland focused so much on poking fun at the space opera adventure in order to maintain the comical tone of the videogame source material that they actually forgot to write a script that defies the genre in any way.
While occasionally fun and consistently visually impressive, Ratchet and Clank is a shallow hero’s journey / morality tale and lackluster contradiction. Given the source material’s narrative appeal to more mature players due mostly in part to its tongue-in-cheek satire and the fact that it hit theaters in the same season as other inspired, animated hits like Zootopia and Finding Dory, two hits that waded into complex themes with resounding success, it’s a shame Ratchet and Clank couldn’t be . . . more. More comical. More willing to explore its themes. More risky.
Instead it treats its audience like children in need of a bedtime story, hitting them over the head with an omniwrench of moral development rather than allowing conflict to fester and decisions to speak for character development. The resultant film feels more like a pilot to a Disney XD television show than a nuanced feature film akin to The Invincibles, Megamind, or Frozen, all films that spun their genre tropes to great success.
Regardless of what the word “and” in title may have you believe, the film follows Sony’s favorite Lombax Ratchet as he makes like a young Luke Skywalker, sulking around his desert planet looking for a chance at adventure when - of course - it lands in his backyard. This is his story - he’s the one who experiences change as a result of the plot, the one with whom viewers are meant to resonate. This focus minimizes both the character of Clank and the film’s ability to explore friendship and the development thereof as a theme in any meaningful way.
Ratchet and Clank save the day in a pinch and find themselves the new stars of the Galactic Rangers, forcing their idiot leader Captain Qwark out of his beloved limelight, inspiring his eventual betrayal. Ratchet goes through the hoops: he forgets his friend Clank in his fame, he arrogantly acts unilaterally, endangering his teammates, a sin for which he exiles himself only to learn the movie’s moral from his adoptive father: you don’t have to do something big to be a hero, just the “right” thing. Repentant and renewed thanks to a visit from Clank, Ratchet rejoins the fight and saves the day.
There are a few more interesting threads here, but the emphasis on Ratchet’s bland arc means they all get cut short. Drek’s cutthroat nature is fun, but the movie all but neglects to provide much in the way of a motivation or explanation. He’s just the bad guy. Qwark’s celebrity narcissism could almost be a psychosis, but his betrayal is waved off with a cheap joke and his later redemption an obvious “do the right thing at the last second” trope. Even the shared plight of the film’s more cerebrally-oriented protagonists of being ignored by their action-oriented companions gets quickly reduced to, “Hey, we should listen.”
But perhaps the most tragic casualty of this simplified narrative is the series staple of biting satire. While this is an issue of fidelity, and therefore not a valid argument against the film’s quality, I doubt anyone would argue that the film missed some serious opportunities to nod at some topical issues with it’s typical propaganda videos and throwaway one-liners. The film replaced such items with character gags like minions who compulsively text and an overzealous fanboy.
That’s not to say the film is without merit. In many ways it captured the tone of the franchise with its bombastic weaponry (the third-act fight between Ratchet and Qwark stands out as the best use of the diverse weapons), over-the-top action and beautiful sets. The film looks great, and the voice acting - mostly reprised from the games - delivers with no obvious hiccups.
More importantly, most of the film’s jokes land well. If nothing else, it makes for a lighthearted laugh. But it could have been more.
Ratchet and Clank is not a bad film. It isn’t broken like the much more expensive Suicide Squad. It’s just disappointing. That it refused to stray from convention despite its self-awareness and seeming mockery of that convention made for a bland, forgettable adventure that simply phoned in all the right beats.