Movie Review: ‘Uncharted’

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Tati Gabrielle, Antonio Banderas

Plot: Young pickpocket and history enthusiast Nathan Drake is recruited by Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan to follow the trail to a lost fortune hidden during the Magellan expedition.

Review: The Uncharted video game series has been held in high regard for a couple of console generations, being considered a well polished and broadly fun Triple-A adventure game. The characters – especially lead Nathan Drake and his mentor Sully – are well known and liked among players, as their easy-going charm and quip-laden dialogue helps elevate the fairly ‘safe’ story-telling and concepts to a higher level. Developers Naughty Dog may push the technical boundaries of gaming systems with Uncharted, but they rarely carried much emotional weight.

Unfortunately, the long anticipated movie adaptation doesn’t do anything to improve these weak aspects of the franchise. Instead they go the other way and largely strip the characters of their likability. The casting of Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg in the lead roles has already been heavily criticised by fans and they don’t do much to convince us that this reworking was worth the bother. By winding the story back to before Drake (Holland) began his adventuring lifestyle this becomes a standard issue origin story. The games that introduce him as an established thief and pseudo-archeologist in the middle of a scheme but now we’re seeing the same gifted-but-out-of-his-element character we’re all too familiar with in the age of superhero movies.

Speaking of which, it’s very difficult to seperate Holland’s performance as Nathan Drake from his Peter Parker. As much as they’ve buffed him up and put him behind a bar, he still looks much younger than he really is. Drake doesn’t rely on his usual firearms to deal with villains and uses parkour to fight, making him feel more like Spider-Man than the star of Uncharted. Having only played the first two games, the first word I’d use to describe Drake is ‘cocky’, and Holland doesn’t not pull that off. He never feels like a new or distinct character. Wahlberg as Sully doesn’t fare any better, delivering the same performance he always does. The confident, grizzled mentor is replaced with the Wahlberg special: speaking like you’re slightly startled but don’t want it to show. Worst of all, they have no chemistry together and their shared scenes feel stilted. It can’t have helped that production was paused due to the pandemic, it would be hard to get a rhythm together.

Much of the script feels like it was worked backwards, starting with a big finish and then writing out scenarios to bring the characters there. Take the scene where Drake wants send an untrustworthy ally in the wrong direction. After working out a map puzzle, Drake looks up the co-ordinates on his phone and writes them down. He then leaves the co-ordinates out as a trust exercise for Chloe Fraser (Ali), who takes the bait and goes the wrong way. Drake then wakes up and finds her gone, then reveals he wrote the real co-ordinates down and hid them in a bottle. Why? He had looked it up on his phone, and had no reason to write them down – but he did, put a circle around them, and hid them. Moments like this are frequent and it really feels like the script needed another pass.

Comparing the movie to the Indiana Jones franchise is inevitable, but one shouldn’t try to draw a comparison by quoting Indy himself. Seriously, why put yourself in that shadow? There have been many films inspired by the Jones series and failed to take up that mantle, but you don’t quote them. Especially when much of the story is progressed by characters walking around and noticing random symbols scratched on random walls that just happen to be the key to a centuries old mechanical puzzle. It’s never especially engaging nor does it manage to build tension.

When reframed as a movie adaptation of a video game, it stands out in it for its high production quality. It actually feels like watching a real movie, which is more than be said for the majority of game adaptations. Uncharted games always played like an interactive movie, so it’s a good fit for the bigger screen.

A special final mention of the most pathetically ineffective throat-slit we’ve ever seen in cinemas. What is presented as an immediately fatal attack looks like a red sharpie was dragged across his neck. Some characters find the body later and it’s still only produced a slight drizzle of blood. It’s a far from serious movie with straight up cartoon physics, but I got really stuck on this one. Even just put him face down so you don’t draw attention to it.

It’s only remarkable in how bland it is. Better casting might have tipped it into being more fun, maybe Nathan Fillion as the younger Sully. It feels like it’ll come easy to him.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN