Ratchet & Clank,
a new CG feature based on a long-running PlayStation game, hits the screen with
a clunk. Even for viewers who’ve never played the game, it feels stale and
derivative, with elements that recall Star
Wars, The Incredibles, The Phantom Menace, Tiger & Bunny, George Pal’s Tulips
Shall Grow, The Simpsons, and
pretty much every smart-nerd-who-comes-from-behind animated feature of the last
The fuzzy “lombax” Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor, who voices
the character in the game), is a grunt of a mechanic working for Grimroth (John
Goodman). But this wild ‘n’ crazy guy is always tinkering with machines and
dreaming about joining the Galactic Rangers, a squad of good guys led by his
idol Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). When Ratchet fails the try-out, Grim admonishes
him to “dream smaller.” What animated hero since Tooter Turtle has learned to
“be what you are, not what you’re not”?
A series of elaborate coincidences brings Ratchet together
with Clank (David Kaye), a diminutive robot, manufactured by mistake at Drek
Industries, whose nasty owner is working in collusion with the evil Doctor
Nefarious (Armin Shimerman). Ratchet is the kind of guy who says, “Hey, it’s
not that bad” when his invention fails. When Ratchet asks what are odds of that
happening, Clank cites a number.
An army of robots created by Nefarious and Drek (Paul
Giamatti) attack Ratchet’s home planet. He and Clank to save everyone. Ratchet is
accepted into the Rangers, but his new-found popularity makes Qwark jealous,
enabling Drek to him win over. Drek is blowing up planets so his robots can
assemble the chunks into an ideal world. (In the game, the planet is apparently
the future home for Drek’s alien species). After a series of blaster battles,
hairsbreadth escapes and endless nattering, Ratchet and Clank win Quark back,
defeat the evil-doers’ schemes in the nick of time and learn the supposed
wisdom of the bromide “Heroes don’t need to do big things, just right things.”
Viewers seeking originality should watch something else. Qwark
suggests a knock-off of Mr. Incredible; Nefarious looks like the title
character in Megamind painted green.
Grim resembles Watto, the alien who owned young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace; the omnipresent
video announcer is basically a green version of Kent Brockman. When Nefarious’
“planetizer” destroys a world, it looks just like the Death Star blasting Alderaan
in the first Star Wars film. Ratchet
recalls every nerd who wants to be hero in recent animation features.
The lack of originality might seem more forgivable if Ratchet & Clank had some heart, but the
film feels cold and often mean-spirited. There are endless explosions, battles
with weapons obviously used in the game, but no one seems bothered by all the destruction.
Any pretext of sincerity is undercut by cynical comments from the characters
and the on-screen text. Qwark’s “repentance” for going over to the Dark Side takes
the form of a self-promotional book tour. The anime series Tiger & Bunny spoofs the idea of superheroes as media creations
much more effectively, without losing its sense of sincerity—and without
talking audience’s ears off.
The filmmaking doesn’t help the weak script. When Ratchet is
defeated in his initial battle with Drek and Nefarious, he’s left drifting through
space in an escape pod. The next time the audience sees him, he’s back at work
at Grim’s garage. How did he get there? The animation is equally unimpressive: The
filmmakers seem to have concentrated on the explosions and sets, rather than
the acting. When the characters run, they look bouncy and weightless, which
might be OK in a game, but not on the big screen.
In a teaser during the credits, Nefarious is shown escaping
from the destruction of his lair, which probably means a sequel already in
works–news about as welcome as the impending return of a locust plague.