Street-smart Nathan Drake is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor "Sully" Sullivan to recover a lost fortune amassed by Magellan.
Adapting PlayStation’s Uncharted games has been on the cards for so long that actors have aged-out of the lead role. Mark Wahlberg himself was set to play Nathan Drake at one point before now taking the older mentor role of Sully. Now, finally, fans of the video game franchise can see if director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) has succeeded in translating what works for an interactive medium to the more passive filmgoing experience.
For the fellow uninitiated, Uncharted follows “fortune hunter” Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) and his mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg) as they try to find various treasures. This particular film works as a prequel to the games — the same approach taken with Tomb Raider (2018)—with a younger, street-smart Nathan working as a barman while stealing customer’s jewellery, before being convinced to help Sully find the lost treasure of the famous Magellan expedition. Along the way, they face treacherous rivals like Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a young treasure hunter who takes a shine to Nathan, and Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), a mercenary working for wealthy businessman Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas). In addition, there’s a strand of mystery holding elements together concerning the unexplained disappearance of Nathan’s brother Sam years ago, who Sully recently worked with on the same quest.
There have been many iterations of this type of movie over the years, all indebted to the Indiana Jones franchise to varying degrees—of which there are a few references here, including the same use of a graphic showing a plane flying over a map of the world leaving a red trail behind it. Conceptually, the Uncharted games already feel like Tomb Raider clone with an American hero, so in some ways its derivative of what was itself a derivation. And there’s certainly not much about the Uncharted movie that stands out as being original or special. But it’s a glossy $120M movie that’s trying to give Spider-Man star Tom Holland another big franchise to lead, and was apparently put together thanks to his genuine love of the PlayStation games and a pitch for a “young James Bond” film that Sony wisely redirected into this project.
I’m sure fans of the game will criticise minutiae that newcomers won’t bat an eyelid over — like how Holland is too young to play Nathan Drake, or that Mark Wahlberg’s Sully doesn’t have a moustache — so I can’t get worked up about such nitpicks without any attachment to the source material. And in starting off with the character so young, it does mean Sony could develop numerous sequels before fans start to complain that Holland is now too old to play Nathan.
For me, Uncharted was a solid action-adventure movie with some entertaining Da Vinci Code-esque puzzles and a sprinkling of decent action set-pieces —the most memorable involving Nathan dangling outside of a plane on a string of cargo, and a bonkers sequence involving two 16th-century galleons being airlifted about by helicopters as a fight plays out across them. The latter stretches credibility to breaking point, undoubtedly, but subconsciously you can’t help cutting Uncharted slack because it’s adapting a video game where that type of physics-defying craziness would be par for the course.
What undoubtedly works about Uncharted is that Holland remains as charismatic and likeable as Nathan as he is Peter Parker. The two characters aren’t polar opposites, but Nathan is certainly more confident and Holland is clearly enjoying getting to play someone with a bit of Tom Cruise swagger about him (hence the cocktail-shaking sequences?) Mark Wahlberg is also effective in this role and avoids being relegated to “sidekick” while also remembering to not overshadow Holland as the star. Their chemistry is the beating heart of the film, and I enjoyed seeing their relationship develop—as Sully is clearly a nice guy, but used to working alone because he can never trust the type of folk he encounters on his trips. The initial wariness between Nathan and Sully is fun and the actors keep things lively, as both characters learn to find greater value in friendship than gold. This aspect of the screenplay by Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway is kept foremost in your mind above the spectacle and by-the-numbers plotting, which I was pleased about.
The supporting players are also good and it helps that most of them aren’t overexposed at the movies, as they have careers more focused on television appearances. Tati Gabrielle (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) makes a strong impression as a cold-hearted villain, and Sophia Ali (Grey’s Anatomy) makes for an entertaining love interest whose loyalties are difficulty to pin down. My only complaint is that her English accent slipped into more of an Australian inflection at times.
Uncharted isn’t a revelation that makes you desperate for more sequels, although it did make me curious to sample the games. It’s slightly more successful than the Tomb Raider reboot with Alicia Vikander, even if I prefer Lara Croft’s personality and more iconic status, but there’s certainly a benefit in having Uncharted operate as a buddy comedy in-between all the treasure hunting. We know Wahlberg can be funny with good material, and his rapport with Holland worked well enough for me to overlook the plot was going through the motions.
Fun if disposable, there’s certainly potential for an Uncharted 2 to capitalise on what worked and punch up the aspects that fell flat. But in terms of Saturday matinee entertainment can take pre-teens to, and not sit there bored rigid, Uncharted worked well enough for me. And in terms of avoiding the “video game adaptation” curse, this is definitely more Mortal Kombat (2021) than Street Fighter (1994).
USA | 2022 | 116 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • SPANISH
director: Ruben Fleischer.
writers: Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (story by Rafe Lee Judkins, Jon Hanley Rosen & Mark D. Walker; based on ‘Uncharted’ by Naughty Dog).
starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle & Antonio Banderas.