A hollow galaxy
The Ratchet and Clank movie holds the promise of adventure. It rushes around planets, through solar systems, and across the galaxy in a sweeping epic with a vivid cast. But it never really entertains. The script is more of a first draft than a final product--the structure of a good story is here, but the substance is missing.
Ratchet and Clank is based on a video game of the same name from 2002, which sparked spinoffs and sequels over 14 years. This, however, is its first foray onto the silver screen. Its lighthearted plot follows our titular pair as they meet, join forces, and fight to save the galaxy from a menacing threat. We see their disparate origin stories. We see their desire to escape their purposeless lives. We watch them encounter Chairman Drek, the villain intent on destroying planets, piecing their parts together to create a new homeworld for his alien race.
There are beautiful establishing shots of exotic locales, and in many scenes, the animation is top-notch. Ratchet's emotive facial animations walk the fine line between exaggerated and realistic. Clank's movements are robotic but clumsy. Drek's attempts to be threatening are erased by the way he drives his segway. The film's animation is endearing in the way it portrays its inhabitants.
But Ratchet and Clank doesn't always let the animation breathe. In fact, much of the film is formulaic, erasing much of its charm with repetition and hackneyed storytelling. We see a new planet. We board an orbiting spaceship. We learn the bad guys' plan, cut to another planet, and hear the good guys' plan. From there, the sequence repeats.
Furthermore, few scenes last longer than 30 seconds, whisking us between locations without really taking the time to develop its characters. None of the relationships display the charm the film's animation does, even when it comes to the heroic duo. In fact, thinking back, I can't remember many scenes where Ratchet and his robotic companion are together. They meet on a high note during a momentous chase scene--but their shared screen time is limited, and forgetful, after that. There's a good "buddy cop" movie hiding underneath it all, but it takes some searching to find.
All the while, the story maintains a whimsical tone suggesting it's a comedy, but the film doesn't elicit many laughs. We meet the Galactic Rangers and their leader Captain Qwark, whose narcissistic ignorance grants some hope that decent jokes might be on their way. But they're not. Scenes with the Rangers repeat the same gag tenfold: that of the brutish muscleheads ignoring, or insulting, the archetypical geeks behind the computers.
Ratchet and Clank pulls us across the galaxy at a breakneck pace, but never seems to take us anywhere.
Some jokes are initially funny, but lose steam when the film lingers on the punchline too long. Even for younger viewers, who will likely understand most of the humor here, Ratchet and Clank seems set on elbowing you in the ribs. "Do you get it? How about now?"
There are some spontaneous, hilarious moments: Chairman Drek pressing a button, right before his underlings soar through a portal and into space, only to continue his villainous monologue as if nothing happened. I wish every joke felt as spontaneous and well-timed as this.
Ratchet and Clank's voice acting, on the other hand, is a bright spot. Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson assume the roles of Drek and Ranger Elaris, respectively, and deliver some of the film's best performances. John Goodman adds personality to the story as mechanic Grimroth, and Sylvester Stallone's metal tones as the robot Victor von Ion bring levity to some of the film's darker moments. And of course we have James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye as the eponymous heroes. They've been acting these roles for 14 years now, and their familiarity with the characters shows in their skilled depictions.
With such a loaded list of names, it's a shame the script doesn't do its actors more favors. Ratchet and Clank purports to be a lighthearted intergalactic comedy. It also completely clones Star Wars, one of the most recognizable science fiction stories there is: a robot crashes to a desert planet, spurring a desert scavenger on to great adventures against a villain with a planet-destroying megaweapon. But Ratchet and Clank's humor never takes on a tone self-aware enough to convince you it's a parody.
This is also movie with a colorful cast of characters and an abundance of multifarious worlds. Yet nothing much changes. The curtain closes on the leading pair in the most mundane way possible, and for all we know, their experience didn't shape them at all. Ratchet and Clank pulls us across the universe at a breakneck pace, but it never seems to take us anywhere. The series may have found success in video games, but in the meantime, it's merely stumbled into film.