Uncharted will never be as enjoyable to watch as it was to play since 2007. Still, director Ruben Fletcher makes an endearing effort to adapt Nathan Drake’s first treasure hunt. Even if Uncharted sometimes forgets to take audiences exploring before showing the treasure.
Puns aside, Fletcher faces a daunting task of making an Uncharted experience without a DualShock controller. The action-adventure movie pieces itself together with the help of six PlayStation games. Of course, treasure hunter Nathan Drake has existed through four generations of PlayStation systems. Players had Drake’s back through a variety of jungles, temples and the traps within them.
For most part, the first feature-length adaptation understands Uncharted’s birthplace. Fletcher manages to pick and choose some of the better qualities of each game. Action scenes keep some of the button-mashing flavour. But Uncharted gets a bit stale when it loses that interactivity and surrenders to the Hollywood machine.
Both games and film share something: a map. The story also comes with an on-brand treasure hunt to spur an adventure. Uncharted luckily sticks to the strength of its characters. Nathan Drake (played by Tom Holland) is a different iteration who serves quips and drinks. Things start as normally as they seem in an overused New York City. Swindler and experienced tracker Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) recruits Nate on a hunt for Spanish gold. As per the trailer, Nate takes a few mementos in hopes of finding his brother Sam Drake (Rudy Pankow).
“Uncharted starts surprisingly strong in its first few minutes.”
Uncharted starts surprisingly strong in its first few minutes. Without spoilers, it actually follows a tradition from mainline games. Taking me back to creator/studio Naughty Dog’s habits of having fun first and asking questions later. But fans and fresh eyes should enjoy a slice of the film’s action. The film starts tediously slow before it feels like a real adventure. Uncharted deviates a bit too far from any kind of adventure.
Extra time is reserved for main villain, Santiago Moncada (played by Antonio Banderas). In his rarer scenes, Banderas manages to make his menacing presence count. The film even goes a step above its games by giving villains room to develop. Moncada’s collected, unhinged presence manages to carbon-cut an obsessive threat inspired by series’ villains before. It’s spurred by an original cast of henchmen, including Tati Gabrielle’s Braddock and a very stereotypical Scotsman for uneven laughs.
On reasonable grounds, audiences get time to meet the new Nate and Sully. But sinning its source material, both are introduced in the least Uncharted way imaginable. The first act misses opportunities to bring its two core leads together with hustle. 2011’s Drake’s Deception did this best with Sully’s rooftop chase in Colombia. Instead, the movie sticks to having two guys stand in a room. In fact, other iconic characters, including fellow hunter Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) are done dirty without a proper entrance.
Audiences are less engaged in what the cast says, compared to what they can do. A short chase scene early on shows how Uncharted veers into passable film territory. This chase, like a few other “original” bits of action, doesn’t add a certain twist from its source material. Things only take shape when scenes imitates the series’ levels (more on that later). Uncharted exhausts Chloe just before the film’s final act. From seeing her game character carry 2017’s The Lost Legacy, it’s a shame to see Frazer benched by the film’s end credits.
“Uncharted loses some grit and potential to be serious in the face of danger.”
The treasure hunter, along with other adapted characters, are radically younger versions of their game selves. Uncharted loses some grit and the potential to be serious in the face of danger. Holland’s casting shouldn’t be dismissed, even if it’s far from the likes of Nolan North or Nathan Fillion who helped preserve Drake’s image. I’m confident in Holland’s own energy for stunts, which translate just as effortlessly as a game character. But Holland’s version of Drake misses a key element: obsession. This trait fuelled Nate’s adventures to dangerous levels. Much to the concern of other game characters, and Sully’s loyalty following Drake anywhere.
Between the characters, there still are moments to laugh throughout. But it doesn’t carry the same heart as the games. Even in a PG-13 setting, the film misses a chance to bring out Nathan Drake’s smart, yet borderline-childish sense of humour, which sadly passes the younger Holland.
Fans expecting Drake to ignore everything and everyone when discovering a clue might be disappointed. Here, audiences see the cliché of a reluctant adventurer. This grounded caricature of Nate easily takes away his charm. Holland isn’t by far the worst casting choice for Drake. In fact, Sony gambles by letting him grow into the role. Assuming a sequel ever makes its way into the limelight. A chemistry does form between Nate and Sully throughout the movie. Uncharted gives both enough screen time to keep audiences interested in a sequel. Even if their humour is dryer and lacks hilarious stories about Sully’s younger years.
Wahlberg’s own spin on Sully feels strangely refreshing. But he loses an “I’m too old for this crap” flair embodied by the game character. It’s worth noting some of Wahlberg’s own action scenes give off more Nathan Drake vibes than Holland himself. In the name of trendy casting choices, Wahlberg instead becomes a flawed mentor for the young Drake. Sully loses back pain and a grumpiness that comes from keeping up with Nate’s obsession.
Audiences do get a break from seeing an elderly man freakishly scale a cliff one too many times across the games. While Uncharted literally tries to use a cat to humanize an emotionless Sully – something which says plenty about the film’s refusal to embrace its roots. Wahlberg puts up a respectable effort as Sully when he comes between his own interests or saving others. Uncharted plays into this development pretty well through the dangers Nate, Drake and Chloe face.
Uncharted does leave some of its action scenes in physically capable hands. Both Holland and Wahlberg clobber underpaid goons with short work. A fun fight involving ships called back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean. Some moves from the games are beautifully translated for the big screen. Uncharted’s action easily takes centre stage here. From the formal auction in A Thief’s End. To its nearly shot-for-shot plane fight from Drake’s Deception. Director Ruben Fleischer gets enough help from PlayStation Studios to take a bit of the best from Drake’s four games.
The effect mostly keeps audiences watching without blinking. Holland’s agility adds a new spin on the character’s fights. A scrappier personality and street-smart approach are akin to the younger Drake first introduced in Uncharted 3 (if not better). Surprisingly, a fully stocked bar and white lie are just as dangerous as a gun. Uncharted still calls out to its third-person shooting roots. When Holland does get his true Nathan Drake moment, it delights with a cheesy execution of Uncharted in a nutshell. But I ultimately smiled when the film finally decided to look like the games.
Naturally, Uncharted’s familiar set pieces from the games offer fan service. Easter eggs come in less than a handful. But fans familiar with certain sounds and voices might want to help newcomers out. It’s still a shame to see Uncharted suffer from wasting its first act for exposition. The series gave players a sense of exploration before seeing treasure. Sadly, Uncharted blows through opportunities to show Drake traversing through jungles or walls.
Most of the film is tied too much to an urban setting over pirate settlements and derelict ruins. Where Uncharted bores with basic sights, it makes up with moving walls and sparing traps. I mostly wanted to see the film live up to its name through lost civilizations. Unfortunately, Uncharted misses even that and skips right to the climax.
Uncharted is a movie adaptation best enjoyed without thinking about a game controller. The film is hardly a bad video game adaptation. Arguably, it’s a half-step forward in the right direction. I say this in the sense of riding along every moving piece Uncharted offers. The movie saves itself with a safety net made from game levels.
Kinetic, twisty and fisticuff action still define Uncharted as an entertaining popcorn-muncher. Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg have a few sequels to go before they fit comfortably into their moulds. Fans still have plenty to love out of the games. But Hollywood telegraphs its own made-by-committee moves in the bold act of giving Uncharted fans what they’ve always wanted.