Video game movies in Hollywood haven’t always gotten the best treatment. The source material for many of them has made them popular in their own right, and it isn’t the easiest thing for any studio to please many. Nowadays, we’re going to see more of them on television with, hopefully, better results. In the past alone, there have been favorable enjoyments (Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu), guilty pleasures (Mortal Kombat), or anything unbearable unwatchable with Uwe Boll’s name attached to it. With the release of Uncharted, a long-awaited adaptation, it was about time to bring one of Sony/ PlayStation’s most successful series to the big screen.
What’s the Story: Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a street smart young man working as a bartender and pickpockets anyone in his sights. What’s even a better personality trait is that he’s a massive history buff, as he carries a ring belonging to his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. One evening after work, he meets his eventual mentor and fortune hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who knows his long-lost older brother Sam and recruits him find the missing fortune associated with Ferdinand Megellan, a fortune that’s worth billions. In a race to beat Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a descendant who believes the treasure is his and his assistant Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), the two of them, along with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), must locate it before it’s in the hands of Moncada.
I’m a massive fan of the Uncharted series from Naughty Dog, which made its debut in 2007. When I got a PS4 as a Christmas gift seven years ago, it came with a downloadable code for the trilogy. I’ve always heard about them in passing, but everybody was right when they’re a lot of fun for what’s been called a modern-day Indiana Jones. So far, I’ve only played the first three, with Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception being a favorite. After spending the time playing each of them, this is a series I’m glad was turning into a movie since it’s one of the more cinematic games I’ve played. But the road to where we are now was an infamous one in the movie history books.
Uncharted had been in development hell for about a decade; a large chunk of that time was wondering if this was ever going to be made or not. The amount of directors that left the project, which was causing concern about the film as a whole, is why it’s only now being released. Picks from David O. Russell, Neil Burger, Seth Gordon, Shawn Levy, Dan Trachtenberg and Travis Knight dropped out. Finally, all eyes turned to Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland series, Venom) to be the one to make it happen. As a fan of the property, the low expectations were already set after being unimpressed with the trailers and a bit of head-scratching on who was in the leads. But despite not expecting this to be the highest achievement of video game movies, this will hit differently for those who played the games or not. And when I watched this from the perspective of someone who has, it’s nothing more than your average treasure hunting movie.
The movie serves as an origin story of how Nathan and Sully first met rather than showing our protagonist getting into crazy adventures that won’t get him killed. I’ve always loved each game because it can easily be compared to the likes of Indiana Jones, National Treasure, and Tomb Raider in a good way, and the developers do a great job at making the storytelling interesting before we’re in control. This was nothing more than an unoriginal action movie of people finding priceless findings around the world. Because of that, there’s something in Fleischer’s direction and the screenplay from Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway lacking the excitement one will get from actually playing the game. When the characters are finding clues to search for the next, the balance between being boring and intriguing isn’t handled right for this property. That sense of adventitious energy really needed to drive this baby home as any ordinary movie would. Instead, it holds nothing special about it where it can sometimes feel like a cut-scene you’d generally skip and it just gets repetitive seeing characters other than Nate be the part of backstabbing or betrayal.
Tom Holland leading the charge of playing Nathan Drake wasn’t my top choice when he was first announced five years ago. Of course, all of us know he’s been crushing it lately as Spider-Man in the MCU, but we were pretty unsure if he was going to pull off this popular character when everybody wanted someone like Nathan Fillion playing him. I wasn’t on board with the fact they were gonna make him younger rather than an adult since that decision won’t be the fans. Maybe as a young adult, if done in flashback scenes, but I was unsure how he’ll be. It’s too early to tell if this will become a potential franchise where we could see him grow in the role. While it took me a while to get used to him at his age, Holland as Drake was enjoyable, mainly because I’ve always expected him to have the charisma to pull this portrayal off. Not that there was a point where I thought he was like him from the game, and while I don’t know if another actor would be a better fit, he didn’t ruin it for me.
And as much as I like Mark Wahlberg and had to keep an open mind while watching him on-screen, who was the person responsible for casting him as Sully? There’s nothing more to say than he was miscast. If anybody remembers, he was the first person to be Nathan, which I didn’t even like despite not being familiar at the time. His performance never convinced me he’s meant to be Sully when all I see is himself being disinterested while on camera. The damage was worse when I didn’t see any chemistry between him and Holland’s Nathan since their bonding never felt right. That relationship I grew fond of before felt lost and couldn’t be improved upon with each scene they shared less of the father-son dynamic that needed the heart. A lot won’t be pleased with one or the other, but personally, there wasn’t a lot to get out of Oscar-nominated actor that made me wish they got someone much older. I liked Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle as Chloe Frazer (first introduced in Among Thieves) and Jo Braddock, respectively, enough. Antonio Banderas as an original villain was wasted that could’ve used him more without resorting to him being forgotten as the movie continues. And the second I realized there’s a significant amount of time he wasn’t on screen, he showed up like it read my mind.
There are really two action sequences that stood out, and they were the only ones marketed much more than anything else. One of which involves a cargo plane taken straight from my favorite set piece from the third game that made good use of filling the entire IMAX screen. Was it better translated here? Not even close, as it was pretty exciting trying to get through the level than watching Holland reenact it on a green screen, which was an odd decision to open the movie for no reason. And while the third act climax of helicopters flying pirate ships is definitely implausible, it did make for a cool sequence. Strangely though, there was a fight scene between Wahlberg and Gabrielle that had me distracted because it took place inside a Papa John’s in Barcelona. Probably the strangest product placement I’ve seen in a movie in a while. I’d bet you will spot a few Easter eggs that’ll be recognizable for hardcore fans. Watching this shows Fleischer can do big-budget blockbusters to appeal to audiences and it does pay respects to the game. Do I wish someone better would done this to make it equally entertaining as the source material? Absolutely.
Overall, Uncharted didn’t leave me with that memorable punch I was hoping for once it ended. While this wasn’t the action movie that had me at the edge of my seat, it serves as a fine video game adaptation that should’ve been more fun. Tom Holland as Nathan Drake was pretty engaging, yet Mark Wahlberg was the wrong choice for Sully. If this is the start of a franchise, here’s hoping it can improve upon its sequel, wherever that will go. And if your first thought after watching the second trailer was thinking they showed the last shot? You’re right, but you have to stay a few minutes longer for when it shows up.
Grade: 5/10 (C+)
Uncharted is currently playing only in theaters.