Friday, 24 February 2017

Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph

"My name's Ralph. And I'm a bad-guy. I'm 9' tall, weigh 643 lbs... And I'm a wrecker. I wreck things. Professionally.  The problem is, fixing things is the name of the game.  Literally: Fix-it Felix Jr. When Felix does a good job, he gets a medal.  But are there medals for wrecking stuff really well? To that, I say "Ha!""

Ralph is a bad-guy with a good heart. Or, as he and his bad-guy friends point out: "I am a bad-guy, but that does not make me a bad guy."  However, in arcade world, computer game villains are stereotyped as evil and dangerous, and Ralph has to overcome this prejudice to become a hero and earn a medal - this becomes his mission in life. He wants to be accepted by the other characters in his game, and show everyone that there's more to bad guys than being bad.  An early exchange between Ralph and the other characters in his game makes it clear that they tolerate him, but nothing more.

"There's no room for you up here... 
Only good guys win medals. And you are no good guy. You're just a bad guy who wrecks the building!"
"No, I'm not."

Having realised his need to win a medal in order to be seen as equal by his contemporaries,  Ralph quickly works out how to get a medal, and successfully wins one in Hero's Duty - another game in the arcade, a first-person shooter set on an alien planet  [
"I thought this was going to be like Centipede. When did computer games become so violent and scary?"].  However, shortly after his heroic achievement, he's accidentally launched into another game in the arcade, where he has to win his medal all over again.

The story is very good, and moves along well, but the best parts of Wreck-It Ralph are the arcade game references (there are many) and the amazing visuals.  Each game and each group of characters have their own visual identity and their own soundtrack. The characters in the arcade classic Fix-It Felix Jr are rendered as slightly jerky 3D versions of chunky square sprites, which jump and bounce around to a classic 8-bit synth tune (and Fix-It Felix's steps and jumps are accompanied by quick riffs, exactly as you'd have heard them in the arcade, even outside his own game).  Hero's Duty is a darker, modern game with sharply-rendered 3D characters, while Sugar Rush Speedway has its own happy soundtrack. 

Wreck-It Ralph takes on an almost completely unique perspective of an arcade game character who knows he's an arcade game character. The one exception I can think of is a book I read at primary school, called Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure... back in the 1980s, but that's nothing compared to this.  The story makes full use of its premise of self-aware game characters, populating its universe with a wide array of game characters - have fun spotting them all - and the interactions between the characters from the different games is what really makes the movie.

Like a 3D view of its 2D characters, Wreck-It Ralph has surprising depth.  I bemoaned and criticised Pixels for its lack of depth and its poor treatment of women; I have no such complaints about Wreck-It Ralph. The two main female characters are both well written and portrayed with surprisingly well thought-out personalities and histories  (presented very quickly in flashbacks).  They contribute significantly to the plot and to Ralph's story, and the relationship between Fix-It Felix Jr and Sergeant Calhoun is thoughtfully written ("Your face is red, you might want to hit it with your hammer."  "Oh, that's not blunt force trauma, ma'am. That's just the honey glow in my cheeks.").

So: I genuinely like Wreck-It Ralph. It's a good take on the computer game theme; it knows its source material, respects it and expands on it. It has great visuals, clever plot and is very funny; I highly recommend it. 





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