In the middle of the climactic final fight of Ratchet & Clank, the evil Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman) brings the action to a halt to momentarily quibble about one of Captain Qwark’s (Jim Ward) awful quips. “If you’re going to use a one-liner, it should make sense and be relevant!” It’s a valid observation of much of the film’s irreverent, cheap humor, but the way it interrupts a life-or-death scheme involving a generic, Death Star-like Deplanetizer also demonstrates the film’s biggest flaw: an inability to focus.
Ratchet & Clank crams in jokes long past the point of relevance and often to outright distraction, if not annoyance. In that, director and co-writer Kevin Munroe is as ambitious as Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), a Lombax mechanic with larger-than-life dreams of becoming the fifth member of the Galactic Rangers, like his idol Qwark. As demonstrated early in this animated feature, however, that propensity to over-deliver comes with significant risks to customers, when Ratchet almost kills an elderly driver by supercharging his engine instead of simply repairing the ejector seat.
Tellingly, one of Ratchet & Clank’s central messages revolves around a wide variety of colorful aliens who suggest that Ratchet slow down, whether it’s his unlikely ally, Clank (David Kaye), a defective, miniature warbot on the lam from his manufacturer, or Ratchet’s gruff yet fair mentor, Grim (John Goodman). Instead, Ratchet constantly leaps into reckless action, egged on by the puerile needs of his ranger companions, who are more comfortable shooting things than getting briefed on them. The result is that viewers never learn much about Cora (Bella Thorne) or Brax (Vincent Tong), except that they’re very disinterested in anything their tech-support ally, Elaris (Rosario Dawson), tries to contribute. Children’s films don’t always have the most well-rounded characters, but even by those standards, the rangers are profoundly shallow.
Ratchet & Clank knows when it’s being cliché, as evidenced by the way the filmmakers literally cue in the inevitable “bad guy speech” from Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), or signal the start of a training montage. Like Ratchet, who asks a dissatisfied and critical customer, “Why replace something when you can make it better?,” the writers are obsessed not with avoiding conventions, but trying to fix them—and make the mistake of thinking that winking to the audience is an improvement. Stunt casting, as in the choice to have Victor Von Ion be recognizably voiced by Sylvester Stallone, doesn’t make that relentless robotic killer any less one-note, just as all the colorful CG in the world fails to make the villainous, reptilian Blarg anything less than lurid Minion-like knockoffs. What little character development remains is almost entirely undercut by acts of abrupt slapstick, like a malfunctioning chair during an otherwise serious heart to heart between Grim and Ratchet.
That constant overstimulation at least pays off when it comes to the action scenes, largely because the inventive arsenal of the video games leaves little room for other distractions. Whereas bad jokes are often repeated in the film, each weapon is more or less used only once, to dramatic effect: buzzsaws, ice beams, novelty punching gloves, the weather-disrupting Tornado Launcher and Thunder Clap, a Sheepinator (which temporarily transmogrifies its victims), and the aptly named Ryno (Rip You a New One). These weapons are all in good fun and deliver fully loaded and inventive action sequences, even though the rest of Ratchet & Clank remains half-cocked.