Film Review: Uncharted
Director: Ruben Fleisher
In Theaters 02.18
I’ve never played Uncharted, the popular PlayStation game, so I can’t speak from a fan’s perspective. I do love treasure hunter adventure movies, and after years of internet fans calling for the game to come to the big screen, it’s finally here. The wait has certainly paid off because the finished product is genuinely damn near adequate.
Uncharted follows the exploits of Nathan “Nate” Drake, an orphan who, along with his brother Sam, ran away and broke into a museum to steal a treasure map from the Ferdinand Magellan expedition—you know, like all kids do—. Nate ended up being arrested and put back in the orphanage while Sam escaped. Sam ran off looking for fortune and glory, sending young Nate postcards and promising to make their ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, proud.
15 years later, the semi-grown Nate (Tom Holland) has given up his dreams of being Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and settling for Tom Cruise in Cocktail, working as a bartender and pickpocket. He’s also given up his dreams of hearing from Sam again until Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a fortune hunter who worked with Sam tracking treasure hidden by the Magellan crew, shows up and explains that Nate’s brother vanished. Sam and Sully were hot on the trail of something big, and Sully needs Nate’s help finding Sam and a treasure worth five billion.
Nate and Sully take off on a globetrotting adventure as they try to stay one step ahead of Santiago Mancada (Antonio Banderas), the last descendent of the family who funded the Magellan expedition. They are also running from one relentless, hot female mercenary, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and reluctantly teaming with another mercenary, Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali, Truth or Dare), because it’s a video game movie. Hot, relentless female adventure seekers are at a premium.
Director Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad, Venom) specializes in making movies with limited potential that still manage to underwhelm, and the majority of Uncharted is neither bad nor good—it’s just sort of there. The plotting is weak—though a bit more coherent than the Tomb Raider films—the characters are paper thin and the action is nothing we haven’t seen done better before. Ali and Gabrielle both have some presence and try to make the best of their underwritten roles, but Banderas is given a character that would need years of music training to qualify as one note. He may be more wasted in this film than he’s ever been before, and he seems to be aware of it.
Holland and Wahlberg do have chemistry, and the duo raise the film’s quality by a few notches. Wahlberg is perfectly cast as a Han Solo–type rogue, giving his best movie star performance in years, though he’s not given nearly enough screen time, and the character is ultimately underdeveloped. It took me some time to get acclimated to Holland because he comes across more like the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist crossed with Mikey from The Goonies than Indiana Jones. Watching him tend bar and talk about his enthusiasm for alcohol just feels wrong. I understand that he’s 25, but he was literally just hitting 18 last December in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and he looks 14 either way.
In the third act, Holland really starts to make Nathan Drake work for him, and the action opens up into an outrageous, incredibly entertaining extended finale that plays beautifully in IMAX. While Uncharted doesn’t ever turn out to be a truly good movie, act three did make up for the meandering feel of the first two thirds and left me feeling like I’d had just enough fun to make the experience worthwhile. In the end, composer Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Pacific Rim) and veteran editor Chris Lebenzon, who has cut most of Tony Scott and Tim Burton‘s best films, do even more to make Uncharted watchable than Holland and Wahlberg.
Uncharted is an off-season blockbuster that serves only as an appetizer until the meal arrives: It’s not filling and it’s difficult to swallow, but the bland taste comes with just enough kick to keep you eating, even though you’re not sure why you’re doing it. –Patrick Gibbs