Films of games have a noxiously bad reputation, and justifiably so. Few, for example, who saw Dennis Hopper’s beyond-phoned-in performance as King Koopa in 1993’s Super Mario Bros (let alone suffered Bob Hoskins’ embarrassing attempts to pull off a Brooklyn accent) have yet to fully recover from the experience. Then you can point at the likes of Uwe Boll, a man on a personal mission to prove that Ed Wood wasn’t the worst director ever, whose modus operandi involved (he supposedly retired from film-making last year) licensing the film rights to video games and committing them to celluloid in a manner that makes the oeuvre of Steven Seagal resemble that of Kubrick. So anything that redresses that balance should be praised, and Ratchet & Clank turns out to be a perfectly decent movie which pre-teen kids will enjoy.
Ratchet & Clank: The Movie is one extremity of a considerable cross-media effort by Sony which also includes a video game for the PlayStation 4 – itself a remake of the original, immensely popular 2002 game for the PlayStation 2. At this point, a caveat is required: if your kids are pressuring you to buy the game and take them to movie, make sure you take in the movie first: the game gives away its entire plot (while adding considerable back-story elements), and its cut-scenes have been taken straight from the movie.
Ratchet & Clank is a classic tale of underdog triumph: Ratchet is a Lombax (a vaguely fox-like anthropomorphised creature), working as a lowly mechanic who dreams of becoming a Galactic Ranger, inspired by the bombast of head Ranger Captain Qwark (surely based on Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan, who himself was a parody of William Shatner's Captain Kirk). He tries out for the Galactic Rangers and is rejected by Captain Qwark, but soon finds the tiny robot Clank, a “defect” who managed to escape from the evil Chairman Drek’s Warbot assembly line. Armed with the knowledge of Drek’s plan to destroy every planet in the Solana Galaxy, they set out to warn the Galactic Rangers and, having saved their bacon, are accepted as Galactic Rangers. An agreeable quest to save the galaxy from destruction at the hands of Chairman Drek and the mad scientist Dr Nefarious ensues.
Ratchet & Clank games have always been known for their gentle humour, and that translates nicely to the silver screen, with the addition of some in-jokes about video games in general and modern life which adults will relate to. Don’t expect too many belly-laughs though. And while the colourful, cartoonish galaxy in which the movie is set looks distinctive and inviting – the art-direction impresses – the CGI doesn’t quite have the pin-sharp, hyper-convincing quality that we’ve come to expect from the likes of Pixar or DreamWorks. It’s far from shoddy, though, and the voice acting, from the likes of Paul Giamatti, Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson and John Goodman, is exemplary.
In other words, it won’t leave you feeling as though you’ve witnessed a masterpiece, but it will make the kids happy: Ratchet & Clank are appealingly heroic yet understated characters, and the film achieves a good balance between action (there is shooting, although with wacky, cartoonish weaponry) and humour throughout. For parents of a certain age, who once owned PlayStation 2s, it should also function as something of a nostalgia-trip.
Just remember, though: if you’re being pestered to shell out for the game as well (which is stunningly good), make sure you’ve taken everyone to see the film before buying it. Ratchet & Clank won’t rehabilitate the dire reputation held by films-of-games overnight, but it does emphatically demonstrate that games aimed at kids (which are strangely thin on the ground these days) can be turned into thoroughly decent CGI movies. And who knows: if Duncan Jones’ forthcoming take on World of Warcraft manages to live up to his back-catalogue, we might just have reached a point at which we finally look forward to films-of-games with something other than utter dread.