CAST: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Antonio Banderas, Pilou Asbæk
RUNNING TIME: 116 mins
BASICALLY…: Young adventurer Nathan Drake (Holland) goes on a globe-trotting search for treasure…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Fifteen long years is what it’s taken to bring the hit video game series Uncharted to the big screen. It’s gone through countless directors – David O. Russell, Shawn Levy, Dan Trachtenberg and Travis Knight among them – and several A-list actors like Mark Wahlberg, Chris Pratt and Nathan Fillion being discussed for the lead role of adventurer Nathan Drake, but now after all its setbacks it’s finally here… and sadly, it’s another one of those cases where the story behind the development and making of the movie is way more interesting than the final product.
Ruben Fleischer is the director firmly locked in to the video game adaptation, and Tom Holland as its lead character; he plays a younger version of Nathan Drake, introduced here as a street-smart bartender and occasional pick-pocketer, who is still reeling from the disappearance of his older brother years prior. His path soon crosses with Victor Sullivan (Wahlberg, who managed to secure a role in the film after all), a fortune hunter who recruits Nathan on a mission to find long-lost treasure formerly in possession of the historical explorer Magellan, which is said to be worth at least $5 billion in today’s currency. The duo’s globe-trotting mission sees them team up with fellow fortune hunter Chloe Fraser (Sophia Ali), and trying to stay one step ahead of wealthy adversary Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and mercenary Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) who have teamed up to find and take the treasure for themselves.
Basically, it’s the standard treasure-hunt narrative, complete with all the puzzles, booby traps and double-crosses you would expect. Of course, this is the formula that the original video games followed as well – at least as far as I’m aware, since I’ve not played any of the games – but something tells me, even as a non-player, that there’s more to it than what the film suggests; here, it all feels very mechanical and streamlined, sticking closely to its paint-by-numbers structure without doing a whole lot to set itself apart from your average Indiana Jones adventure. The script, credited to The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Lee Judkins and writing duo Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, plays things reasonably safe, signalling each of its sudden turns – except for one hierarchy-shifting moment which is quite shocking and unexpected – well in advance to its audience, as though to hold its hand all the way through, and not allowing them the satisfaction of figuring stuff out for themselves, even in this treasure-hunt movie filled with clues and riddles.
There really isn’t much to this film that really stands out, at least in an unironic sense. Fleischer’s direction isn’t lively enough to give some of the action scenes the sense of fun and awe that they probably need, though once in a while some personality shines through the cracks (during the opening sequence, Tom Holland’s Nathan frettingly apologises to someone after kicking them off cargo clinging in mid-air and towards their certain demise), but not enough to really give it that essential boost of life. Most of the other technicals, like the cinematography and the visual effects, are just kind of there, without much attention thrown their way but not so little that they’re entirely absent from the picture either. It’s easy to see the checkboxes being ticked with this studio picture, from the unnecessary action beats every so often to some extremely blatant product placement, with the biggest culprit being a major plot point and fight sequence taking place in a random Papa John’s restaurant in the middle of Barcelona (odd location for a largely American chain, but whatever).
A movie like this is one that coasts on the charm of its lead actors, but even therein lies flaws. Both Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg are very capable leading men, but while they do fine here as well, something about their chemistry feels somewhat off; whether it’s the one-liner dialogue they’re given or their noticeably different acting styles (Holland is his usual likeable and chirpy self, whereas Wahlberg is like a slightly grumpier Han Solo), the actors struggle to bounce genuine energy between each other, and it just comes across as two actors reading lines opposite each other rather than anything fully believable. You never really feel like these two characters are legitimately close – or at least as much as they apparently are in the video games – no matter how hard the two actors try to make it work. It’s way more noticeable when you have a surprisingly limited core cast of flat supporting characters, including Antonio Banderas as a flimsy villain, and when a large amount of your focus is asked to be placed upon these two bickering leads, who by all accounts should work together better than they do.
Ultimately, when you see how pedestrian and even dull the movie is, it makes you wonder exactly why it took so long for this thing to be in development, if at the end it was going to turn into something so standard. Again, I am not an expert on the original games in any way and am only going off of what is in this movie, so for all I know the games really are like this and this is an on-point adaptation, though I’m quite sure that’s not the case. I’d honestly be interested to see what actual Uncharted players make of this movie, since there are bound to be more interesting and exciting stories that go on in that virtual universe (there have to be, otherwise it probably wouldn’t have become a franchise in the first place) than they do here, which just feels like desperate studio-mandated writers trying to make their own cost-cutting version of Indiana Jones to buy time until the next one eventually comes out, only there isn’t as much investment or enough of a pure old-fashioned thrill factor that carried those films.
As for where it ranks among the depressingly large roster of underwhelming video game adaptations, it’s by no means at the bottom of the pile, but not memorable enough to peer through the top either. Either way, this isn’t the treasure you might have hoped for.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Uncharted is a mostly standard and pedestrian video game adaptation that doesn’t entirely justify the fifteen-year development phase, with its formulaic and familiar script and unremarkable action, not to mention the somewhat off chemistry between leads Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, leaving it in the form of a forgettable studio product.