Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
Starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, and Antonio Banderas.
Street-smart Nathan Drake is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada.
It’s easy to take a look at Naughty Dog’s phenomenally successful Uncharted video game franchise and consider it among the IP ripest for a movie adaptation. After all, the games are focused squarely around a charmingly roguish protagonist being forced through one vertiginous set-piece after another, in a style so fluidly cinematic that it could be translated near-verbatim to live-action.
Yet when you get into what Uncharted really is, it’s clear that bringing the globe-trotting action-adventure series to the big screen is a little trickier than it first seems, as director Ruben Flesicher (Venom) and the film’s trio of screenwriters ultimately fail to reconcile.
It’s no secret that the Uncharted games owe a massive debt to the Indiana Jones movies, and while that creates a compelling hook for a video game in which the player is an active participant in the running, shooting, jumping, climbing, and puzzle-solving, as a movie it ends up feeling like, well, a dull facsimile of Indiana Jones.
This isn’t to say that the film couldn’t have been a fun time; with worthy casting of intrepid treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his cantankerous older mentor Sully, and a script that exploited their well-honed chemistry from the games, Uncharted had a better chance than most video game movies of actually succeeding, and even becoming a viable blockbuster IP in its own right.
But top to bottom this is patronisingly low-effort hokum that lacks both the gut-wrenching suspense and organic good humour of its immediate source material. The problem first and foremost is that neither Tom Holland nor Mark Wahlberg are particularly well-suited to their parts. Fans have long decried Holland being considerably younger than the Nate from the games, and it’s difficult not to view that casting decision through the cynical lens of a Hollywood studio.
Numerous age-appropriate actors have been touted for the part over the years – Nathan Fillion was a long-time fan favourite, and Wahlberg himself was up for it when David O. Russell was attached to direct years ago – but one can easily picture the Sony execs picking Holland on the pure basis of his success playing Spider-Man.
But of course Peter Parker and Nathan Drake are very different characters, even ignoring their ages, and yet Holland’s Nate feels more-or-less a sublimation of his Peter Parker. The swagger and confidence of the video game Nate is mostly absent here, and while you can argue that this is supposed to be a younger, less-assured Nate, is that really what anyone who loves the video games was interested in seeing?
Wahlberg is similarly much younger than the Sully of the games, and true to form gives a playing-himself performance that offers sporadic amusement but more often feels uninterestedly phoned-in. The biggest calamity of all, though, is that Holland and Wahlberg’s chemistry lacks the crucial spark around which this entire enterprise is hinged. Not even a bevy of well-executed set-pieces could buoy the film if this part was lacking, which it is. The “funny” quips and banter feel horribly forced throughout, albeit in large part due to the almost parodically formulaic script.
There’s keener promise among the wider supporting cast but the talented players are largely squandered; Antonio Banderas sleepwalks his way through a nothing role as overarching antagonist Santiago Moncada, a scowling treasure hunter with some all-timer daddy issues. As his lieutenant, Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) is far more appealing, though beyond her neat look and a few crunchy action beats, she’s a cardboard standee of a character.
To get back to the video game characters, though, there’s one who’s actually somewhat well-served here, and that’s Nate and Drake’s regular frenemy Chloe Frazer, brought to vibrant life with a spunky turn from Sophia Ali. Ali both physically resembles Chloe from the games and, more importantly, captures the essence of her personality, enough to make you lament the fact that she’s stuck in a movie with actors playing crude maquette imitations of their video game namesakes.
But the cast is unaided throughout by an embarrassingly lousy screenplay which semi-randomly borrows cues, plot points, and action sequences from the video games yet without any of their ingenuity or craftsmanship. Nate and Sully’s treasure hunt is thunderously boring for long stretches, exacerbated by their slack chemistry and the fact that watching people solve puzzles in dimly-lit ruinous environments isn’t nearly as interesting to watch as it is to play in a game.
The real disappointment for many will be that Uncharted doesn’t even really function as a passable action film; the majority of the generic set-pieces on offer are over in a flash and feel weirdly constrained, while director Fleischer – less an artist than a hired gun of a filmmaker – has little knack for approximating the games’ splashy style.
He gets close with two back-to-back sequences in the final third – an adaptation of Uncharted 3′s cargo plane sequence and a finale involving flying pirate ships – but even then, there’s nothing here that can hold a candle to the creativity of the games’ action.
From its ill-suited cast to its scrawled-on-a-napkin script, mediocre action, and generally thrown-together feel – including a distracting overabundance of ADR dialogue piped in to add “pep” to action beats – Uncharted is a fascinatingly underwhelming misfire that can’t even satisfy as a basically disposable adventure romp.
Whether this marks the launch of a major video game movie franchise will depend on its commercial performance, and though loyal fans will surely flock to it reviews be-damned, something this shamelessly vanilla and snoozy really doesn’t deserve to succeed where so many other adaptations have failed.
Uncharted again proves that video games inspired by classic movies – in this case Indiana Jones – should probably stay video games, because this soulless action-adventure flick feels like a dusty double-photocopy of Harrison Ford’s blockbuster franchise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.