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Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
A Fundamentally Flawed and Badly Written Piece of Celluloid
When my friend and I came out of the cinema having just watched this, neither of us knew where to start to make sense of what we'd just been put through. Both being long-time video game fans, I'd recommended that we go and see it on the strength of the trailer. But beyond the visual references to various games of the past thirty years, there's really nothing here to hold the interest of older gamers like us. There's actually very little to hold the interest of *anyone*, so confused is this mish-mash of seemingly good ideas.
The film starts out well enough, with the Fix-it Felix Jr. game rendered faithfully as though it were a real coin-op from the 80s, and the initial look into Game Central colourful and awe-inspiring. But after Ralph decides to get himself a hero's medal to prove to everyone in the Fix-it Felix game that he's not just a badguy, things take a turn for the worse. The Hero's Duty game environment is that of a generic sci-fi-inspired modern first-person shooter, and feels like it was put in the movie to appease the fans of such games, rather than because it was beneficial to the plot.
Nevertheless, Ralph gets his coveted medal, but ends up accidentally activating one of the deadly and voracious robotic bugs from that game, and stumbles into an escape pod that eventually takes him to the kart-racing game known as Sugar Rush. It's here that the plot flits and meanders between so many different plot points that it becomes almost impossible to follow (Ralph wants to get his medal back/Vanellope is a glitch/wants to be a real kart racer but doesn't know how to drive/Ralph isn't in his own game so it's declared out of order and might be taken away/King Candy has his own dastardly plans, as he is actually an embittered game character from years ago whose back story is thrown in at the eleventh hour/As Vanellope is a glitch, she needs to cross the finish line in a race, otherwise she can't leave the game/Bug from Hero's Duty has multiplied exponentially and poses serious threat to Sugar Rush world).
It ends up trying to cover too many characters and needing to tie up too many loose ends. That these are seemingly neatly tied up at the end doesn't vindicate it. Also, the fact that the entire second half of the film is set in the Sugar Rush game is a big weakness. With its retina-searing colours and endless depictions of sweet-like landscapes, it doesn't feel game-like in any way, and it's here that the movie lapses into bog-standard CGI animation territory. I was very interested to learn that the production had been in development hell for so long, as it has the feel of having been cobbled together with bits and pieces from various writers who've come and gone over a long period of time.
But the thing that really struck me was the terrible characters. Ralph and Felix are fairly likable, and their voice actors' respective performances suit the characters perfectly, but the film is ruined entirely by the two main female characters. Sergeant Calhoun has obviously been shoehorned in to provide relief from the ubiquitous and generic male space marine type, but is utterly objectionable. Bitter and sadistic, she freely smashes Ralph and Felix with her helmet/rifle butt/fists multiple times and fires on sight at Felix the first time they meet. There's even a particularly uncomfortable scene where Felix begs her to hit him so that they'll be saved from quicksand by some candy-vines that find the violence funny(???) and her inflicting injuries on him is seen as OK, as he can heal himself with his magic hammer. Honestly, what madman came up with that?! There's an attempt at back story and explaining why she's so callous, but she's devoid of any redeeming qualities, so it all falls flat. There's also a complete mismatch between her face and her voice; she looks like a girl in her twenties, but sounds like a middle-aged woman.
Then there's Vanellope. In the scene in which she first appears, she steals Ralph's medal and uses it for her own ends. Then, after witnessing her getting bullied by her peers, Ralph agrees to help her to get back what she stole from him(!). There's a 'cute' scene where Vanellope makes a replacement medal for him out of sweets, but she never apologises for stealing it in the first place. Yet she makes Ralph repeatedly apologise and demean himself for smashing her kart and stopping her entering the race, even though he did it on the knowledge that it might save her life! These are not the actions of a protagonist. She is irritating, brattish, selfish and entitled, yet when she's feeling depressed or being picked on, the viewer is supposed to feel sorry for her. She deserves nothing, yet ends up with everything, her disability becoming a super-power and the denizens of candy land suddenly remembering that she used to be their princess.
Modern films are full of characters like this, and this particular film left me once again lamenting Hollywood's fundamental inability to come up with characters that the audience cares about. Without such characters, no amount of rainbow-coloured gloss will make any movie anything other than ultimately worthless.
So the movie fails on all counts. Video game fans will inevitably be left disappointed, as beyond the visual cues to games past and present, there's very little to keep them interested. It's too convoluted for younger viewers, and not well written or funny enough for older audiences. What a shame.