The Uncharted video game franchise is a lot of fun. The games really make you feel like you’re in the midst of an Indiana Jones-style adventure. They’re about as exciting as gaming gets, with solid stories, to boot. So, a film adaptation certainly had potential. In development for what feels like well over a decade, it’s finally come to fruition. However, the movie opts to be an origin story, aging down protagonist Nathan Drake. It makes financial sense, opting to make it a long-running franchise. Unfortunately, Uncharted has put the cart before the horse, and it’s unlikely that the flick will get a sequel. While never being overtly bad, it’s instantly forgettable and a pale imitation of better adventure tales. You may have an okay time watching it in the moment, but I dare you to remember it once it’s over.
Uncharted is, oddly, better when its cast members are bickering back and forth, as opposed to when they’re actually on their quest. Plus, it mostly just reminds you how much more fun it is to play something like this, with just watching it all go down a miscalculation. A passive experience is not what this material is built for.
An origin story for an iconic video game character, we’re introduced here to the street-smart Nathan Drake (Tom Holland). Bartending and picking pockets, one day he’s recruited by the seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), hoping to get his help in recovering a fortune hoarded by Ferdinand Magellan and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada. Initially skeptical, Nate is brought around in part by Sully having a relationship with his missing brother Sam. It seems like quick money for the hustler, but as he’ll quickly learn, nothing is going to be easy here.
What starts as a complex yet singular heist job turns into a globe-trotting adventure in short order. As they search for the treasure, they’re aided by Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), while Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) pursues them. He believes his family are the rightful heirs to the treasure, and with the help of the ruthless Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) will kill to secure it. If Nate and Sully can decipher the clues and solve one of the world’s oldest mysteries, not to mention stay alive, they might be able to locate the treasure. Plus, the end of the rainbow may even have information for Nate about Sam…
Tom Holland makes his version of Nathan Drake reasonably enjoyable, while Mark Wahlberg is clearly having fun. They’re solid together when they’re just bickering, though neither really does a whole lot with their action sequences. The rest of the cast, including Sophia Ali, Antonio Banderas, and Tati Gabrielle, are pretty much wasted. It’s all about Holland and Wahlberg. Supporting players include Steven Waddington, but no one really gets much to do.
Director Ruben Fleischer is a solid director, but he’s saddled with a mush of a script. A cavalcade of writers (Matt Holloway, Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, Jon Hanley Rosenberg, and Mark D. Walker all have credits) really struggle to introduce Nathan Drake to the big screen. They get the Nathan and Sully banter down decently well, but the adventure itself is muddled, overly complicated, and yet, rather telegraphed. It shouldn’t feel dumb, but Uncharted sure does at times. Fleischer just doesn’t have the style to overcome all of that.
Video game adaptations almost never work, but I do feel like we’re getting close. Uncharted is just the latest one to fail, but hope springs eternal. The thing is, filmmakers need to focus on good stories, not material that takes away the fun of participation. When they do that, we’ll have a new day of movies based on games upon us.
Uncharted is fine, I suppose. However, we’re right to expect more, given the leads, as well as the potential for a new adventure franchise. So, if you’re a big fan of the games, you might be curious. I know I was. Just keep your expectation in check. Or, better yet, just replay the last few games, which are glorious. This, decidedly, is not.