Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenwriter: Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle
The ‘Uncharted’ video games have been huge since 2007, combining brisk action and a similar style of adventure as can typically be found in the likes of The Mummy, National Treasure and Indiana Jones. With five games in the series and an inherently cinematic style to the action, the franchise has long seemed ripe for a big screen adaptation. Even so, adapting the Naughty Dog games has proven a difficult task with the project going through development hell at Sony Pictures, a number of marquee directors from Travis Knight (Bumblebee) to David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and even Shawn Levy (Free Guy) attached to the project at various points with a number of actors considered for the role of central protagonist Nathan Drake. In February 2022, the Uncharted project has finally been released with Spider-Man himself Tom Holland in the role of Nate, Mark Wahlberg as his mentor and friend Victor “Sully” Sullivan, and Venom director Ruben Fleischer at the helm.
The film tells an original story that borrows from the games’ mythology and character arcs. We see Nate and Sully facing off against wealthy adversaries to find a long-lost treasure hoard belonging to Portuguese explorers. Antonio Banderas plays antagonist Santiago Moncada, with Sophia Ali as Chloe Frazer (a character from the games) and Tati Gabrielle as Braddock, a character who has something of a history with Sully.
Uncharted acts as a fresh origin story for Drake, Tom Holland’s version working as a bartender and picking pockets on the side. Wahlberg’s Sully has a relationship with Nate’s long lost brother Sam and so ropes Nate into being his accomplice. As with the games, this is a globetrotting affair taking us from Barcelona to the Philippines although it never feels quite on the same level as with the games, perhaps missing some of the jungle or desert sequences that famously made the video game franchise so cinematic.
The film’s opening pace is frenetic, largely avoiding bogging itself down in character introductions. While this means it has a lively zip to proceedings, often the characters (including Drake and Sully) can feel quite flat and underdeveloped. For a franchise with awe-inspiring set pieces at it its core, the action hereafter largely fails to replicate that of its predecessors, although there are some enjoyable sequences splintered throughout.
Despite its naturally exciting premise, there is often a surprising lack of urgency, which is no more prominent than in how the plot develops at the behest of convenience rather than any meaningful character action. To make matters worse, the villains lack any form of menace. One standout sequence is a fast and brutal fight in a Barcelona bar that feels more in keeping with the tone of the games, but this is an exception that proves the rule and highlights how much of a shame it is that the film couldn’t generate more highlight-worthy moments of quality.
The casting of Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg in the leading roles perhaps caused the most nervousness amongst fans in the run up to the film’s release and, while the characterisation doesn’t quite line up with their game counterparts, the pair are clearly putting in strong efforts. Holland is charming and shows he can lead a film of this scale, though he rarely feels close to the character he is supposed to be inhabiting. Meanwhile, Wahlberg is relegated to the role of comic relief for much of the middle act, detracting from the actor’s impact. Most disappointingly, Sophia Ali’s performance is questionable at best, with some decidedly interesting accent work on display, while the villains are never given a chance to explain their motives or to offer much by the way of threat to our protagonists.
Despite obvious setbacks, Uncharted is a perfectly adequate two hours at the cinema. With the number of delays and changes to its cast and directors, it certainly could have been much worse. What will be most frustrating for fans of the video game franchise and distributors Sony is that the film fails to deliver the same level of quality as its source material, though newcomers might find more to enjoy. This is not a film without merit, its short-changing of the fanbase unlikely to detract from how it successfully fills the fantasy-action-adventure void left by The Mummy and National Treasure.
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