Ratchet & Clank

Posted on April 28, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright 2016 Focus Features
Copyright 2016 Focus Features

Roger Ebert famously declared that a video game could not be art, giving rise to howls of protest. I believe that videogames, like movies, can and will rise to the level of art. But movies like “Ratchet & Clank” will continue to be compelling arguments to the contrary. Video games have striking visual design and some promising characters, though, in my limited experience, they are superficially sketched in to give the player room to inhabit them fully. If most of them don’t have what we might consider a plot, they have as much of a plot premise as many action movies: the world is under attack! And yet, so far no video game has successfully made the leap to a movie with enough of a story to succeed even as mildly entertaining.

Playstation’s Ratchet & Clank games, with names like “Full Frontal Assault” and “Tools of Destruction” are renowed for their varieties of weaponry. “With all that hardware at hand, it’s no wonder Ratchet, a wrench-wielding Lombax, and his robot buddy Clank, have itchy trigger fingers. Think about it. You can choose from burning, bombing, exploding or obliterating your enemies. So go ahead, blow it up. Blow it all up. It isn’t the size of your weapons that count. It’s how many you have and better yet… How you use ’em.”

So, not much by way for storyline or character and not exactly child-friendly. So, I am not sure what inspired Focus Features to turn that into a movie that is rated PG (“for action and some rude humor”) and intended for children.

Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a well-meaning but not entirely competent Lombax, a talking fox-like orphan of mysterious origin who works as a mechanic in a garage owned by Grimroth (John Goodman). His heroes are the Rangers, an elite fighting squad led by the preening, jut-jawed Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). When the planet is under attack from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and mad scientist Dr Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), the Rangers decide to take on another member and Ratchet is determined to be the one to join the team.

That slight framework leads to a lot of shooting scenes with different weapons and some minor plot developments about shifting loyalties as a runt robot created for Drek becomes Ratchet’s partner, Clank (David Kaye), and Qwark, his feelings hurt by Ratchet’s popularity, is lulled by Drek’s promises of support. And then more shooting.

Without the interactive element of a game to make up for the thin characterization and repetitive plotline, the settings and action scene set-ups are generic and under-imagined, only reminding us of how much better original films like “Megamind” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” were in handing similar material.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of sci-fi, action-style peril and weapons, with the entire galaxy at risk, though the film makes it clear that the planets being blown up are not occupied. There is brief bodily function humor.

Family discussion: Why was Qwark the leader of the Rangers? How many characters changed their loyalties in this movie, and what were their reasons? Why didn’t Qwark listen to Elaris?

If you like this, try: “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Megamind”

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Animation Based on a video game

Hitman: Agent 47

Posted on August 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

Maybe someday there will be a good movie based on a videogame. But there’s no evidence of that possibility in the tiresome “Hitman: Agent 47” based on the first-person shooter Hitman Trilogy. The game keeps the player’s interest through challenges involving dexterity and problem-solving.

The movie has striking images and competently staged fight scenes, but a movie needs some reason to care about what is going on, and that never happens. The one interesting twist in the storyline is revealed in the trailer, so if you’ve seen that, you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at your watch. Even by the low standards of the dog days of August, this one is a slog.

“Hitman: Agent 47” is another in a long series of films — and one of two this week — with the same theme. There’s a secret government program to create enhanced humans with better-than-human reflexes, sight, hearing, and survival skills. But other human qualities like emotion, fear, and remorse, have been eliminated. They are called Agents and they have numbered barcodes tattooed into their heads. This is explained by a droning narrator at the beginning, more likely to induce somnolence than dread. So, the program has been shut down, the only person who knows the secret formula has disappeared, and the head of an evil corporation called the Syndicate wants the scientist, he wants the formula, and he wants to create an army of Agents.

Meanwhile, Katia (Hannah Ware) is trying to find a man, and all she has is an out-of-focus photo. She is not making any progress and then a mysterious man named John Smith (Zachary Quinto) shows up for one of those “follow me if you want to live” moments. He says he will protect her from a man who is trying to kill her and help her solve the mystery. The man he promises to protect her from is Agent 47, played by Rupert Friend, with a shaved bullet head and razor-sharp cheekbones.

After that, it’s just a lot of bang bang in exotic locations and not-surprising surprises about who is what and who fights whom. When you have characters with superpowers, we have to have a thorough understanding of their abilities and vulnerabilities for any dramatic tension about the outcome of a fight. There is literally a shot of a staircase in this film that is more arresting than any of the blood-spurting injuries inflicted along the way. It’s basically a “Terminator” rip-off (as if “Terminator” sequels haven’t already provided us with enough of those) — emotionless killing machine pairs with human and takes on battalions. One of his superpowers apparently includes not mussing his clothes. His red tie stays neatly knotted and his crisp white shirt stays tucked in. He also sleeps sitting up. In the theater, checking my watch, I envied that superpower most of all.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and very graphic and bloody peril and violence, shootouts, explosions, knives, chases, torture, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images, some strong language, medication, and a sad parental death.

Family discussion: Why does John say his name is Brian? Why doesn’t he get up the first time he is shot? Is it inhuman not to have remorse or sorrow?

If you like this, try: “Hanna,” “The Bourne Legacy,” and “Resident Evil”

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Posted on September 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Roger Ebert launched a thousand blog posts with howls of protest by asserting that a video game could never be a work of art. I don’t say “never” when it comes to art, but by all evidence to this point, a video game does not make a movie. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who improbably turned a theme park ride into a phenomenally successful movie franchise with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, has not done as well by the Prince of Persia game, omitting the two elements that made the Pirates movies sensationally entertaining: a very good script and Johnny Depp.

Jake Gyllenhaal, newly bedecked in long hair, buff bod, and English accent, plays Dastan, a former street kid adopted by a king and raised as brother to his two sons. When he is framed for the murder of the king he must run. And since he has taken a special dagger that belongs to a princess, she has to come with him. She is the keeper of a sacred dagger, which gives everyone something to chase after, steal from each other, and almost lose many times.

The movie is about two-thirds action and one-third bickering banter. The action scenes are fairly good; the banter is below the level of chit-chat from Oscar presenters. There are winks at the game, with a lot of leaping between ledges and rooftops and the ability to rewind time. The story also has several distracting winks at current or near-current events, with complaints about taxes and a fruitless search for the ancient equivalent of weapons of mass destruction.

The settings are glorious. As swords are being wielded in a kaleidoscope of quick shots, we keep hoping for more of a chance to enjoy the scope and sweep and sumptuousness of the re-created ancient world of walled cities, palaces, and desert. Instead, it just serves to remind us of how undeserving the story that takes place there is by comparison.

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game Epic/Historical Fantasy
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