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Gamers Got the Movie Adaptation They Deserve in ‘Ratchet & Clank’ (Commentary)

This movie isn’t good, but that’s what happens when you try to adapt a video game faithfully

There’s a movie out this week called “Ratchet & Clank,” and it’s based on the 2002 video game of the same name. This movie also has a tie-in new video game, again of the same name and made by the same game studio that made the original, that is based on it.

The video game developers who make this series almost certainly enjoyed this weird dynamic because they knew they could use it as a gag.

The game box for “Ratchet & Clank” (2016) reads: “The game, based on the movie, based on the game.” It’s a very jokey, irreverent franchise, and one that’s probably better suited to the movie treatment than most games because of that total lack of self-seriousness — there’s not much need for it to be all that faithful to the game in any manner except by carrying over that tone and a decent selection of the franchise’s staple characters. Early this month, I watched the “Ratchet & Clank” movie, and then I also played through the game.

I enjoyed both of them, for basically the same reason, though I would never call either of them as great works of entertainment.

The title characters in “Ratchet & Clank” are a cat who walks on his hind legs and a short little robot guy who usually rides on the cat’s back like a backpack, and they travel across the galaxy getting into adventures together. This movie, of course, is aimed at children. The games are aimed at gamers — some of whom probably are children but it’s not a “game for children,” as it were. The difference is just semantics, as the games don’t really contain content that you’d describe as “mature,” and they’re still about an anthropomorphic cat. As I said, the movie and game are fun for the same reason.

That reason is, of course, the jokes. The “Ratchet & Clank” movie does feel overly brief. It’s a svelte 94 minutes long, which is to be expected of an animated movie that doesn’t really have any depth. So it’s disjointed and comes off as rushed, particularly in the montage-esque opening act. Eventually it slows down just enough to become an approximation of a real movie. But it never becomes more than a pretty solid vehicle for a rapid-fire sequence of jokes that land pretty often. It’s not “good.” It was just fun for me, as someone who’s intimately familiar with and likes “Ratchet & Clank” as a game franchise.

 

The game that’s based on this movie is the 13th video game edition of “Ratchet & Clank” and serves as a reboot of the series. It follows the gameplay formula set by the last few of them, so there’s nothing revolutionary or even interesting about how it plays. As an adaption of the movie that was adapted from the other game, this game largely exists between scenes from the movie, some of which are tossed into the mix for good measure.But this expansion of the narrative isn’t really the good kind. In the movie, the characters will recognize a problem (“the bad guys have a space station they’re using to destroy planets!”) and then immediately go after it. In the game, they’ll recognize that problem and then Ratchet and Clank will travel to several planets to fetch items to build a device that can be used to go after the problem. These extra bits, which are most of the game, don’t add substance. They simply add because that’s what games do. They’re about quantity over quality.

But the “Ratchet & Clank” game works anyway because it’s fun on its most basic level to play, and as you play it constantly throws jokes at you that are really funny more often than not. It’s the jokes that make it, in both the movie and the game. That the jokes are the linchpin is why the game isn’t as good as the last few in the main series — it’s an origin story, so Ratchet and Clank aren’t best friends yet and it lacks the heart that their relationship normally would provide.

The bigger joke, though, is that video game sites have been saying that the “Ratchet & Clank” movie doesn’t live up to its source material or the new game. I’d say the movie lives up exactly to both. Neither has any substance — the original “Ratchet & Clank” is really rough in that regard —  and they both ride entirely on the strength of their weird non-sequitor humor. So the movie delivers that in movie form and the game delivers that in game form. Drastically different types of media necessarily deliver drastically different types of experiences.

That said, “Ratchet & Clank” is the most faithful movie adaptation of a video game I’ve ever seen. This is as good as it gets if “faithful” is what you care about, and gamers sure do act like that’s all they care about. They hate the live-action “Resident Evil” movies because they never tried to follow the plots of the games — it’s a bastardization, they cry. Those movies replicate perfectly the B-level entertainment of big budget video games. The 2005 “Doom” movie is also notoriously hated as an adaptation, but it’s really better than the “Doom” video game franchise — which lacks any real aspirations as a work of art — would deserve. It’s a bad movie, but it’s definitely a real movie. These games that get turned into movies aren’t examples of high art, a B-movie should be the best anybody can hope for.

“Ratchet & Clank,” though, is not a bastardization, but rather a video game with the fat and interactivity cut out. It’s also not something anyone will remember in five years because it’s an experience that’s as fleeting as most video games are. I certainly feel no pressing need to watch it again, ever.

So “Ratchet & Clank” is a “good” adaptation but not really a good movie. But it is the movie that gamers asked for, and it’s the one they deserve.