There should be something fun about getting a new adventure film styled as a Saturday matinee feature. I wish Sony’s adaptation of the popular and acclaimed Uncharted video game series went over better. As it is, while there’s enough confidence in some of the execution, pining for a solid matinee has come at the cost of charm. Uncharted is the sort of redundant effort I was dreading when getting a movie serving as an adaptation of a video game inspired by the same kind of movies (the best versions of them, no less). Rather than find a way to surprise the audience, this is more of a film going through the motions and hoping the strength of the leads is enough to help it get by.
The film stars Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a history enthusiast who tends a bar in New York. Holland gets to show off the flashy drink-mixing skills he learned for this film quite a bit, so I can only assume Nate makes a lot in tips to afford the fancy loft we see him hanging out in, while considering an offer from fortune hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). Regardless, Nate is convinced by Sully to go with him on an adventure to find Ferdinand Magellan’s lost gold. This will require treasure maps, hidden keys, some tomb raiding, and the wits of two guys who bicker with each other. Oh, and there’s a rival group who also want the treasure, and they’re meaner, so expect lots of fisticuffs.
It’s not as though the ingredients for success are not here. However, this is the sort of film that highlights the limits of many involved. Holland, for example, is a capable young actor. Does he command the screen with the kind of charisma needed to lead this sort of adventure film? Not when Sony seems to be content with doubling down on their Spider-Man investment with him. I understand the idea is to start a franchise with Uncharted, and Holland can essentially grow up with the role. Were this to get that far, ideally Holland would find more to do with this character. As it stands, he delivers quips, does some stunts, and makes sure to mention he had a brother named Sam every three minutes.
Wahlberg fares better by combining a very laid-back yet eager approach to his overall demeanor. A long time ago, when this movie was in development, Wahlberg was going to star as Nate. I’m not a stickler for source fidelity, but he doesn’t much resemble Sully, which only matters so much when considering that he largely works fine here. Really, there’s not much to learn with his Sully either, aside from being told he will double-cross anyone in favor of treasure. In case one is concerned about what Sully’s arc in the film will be, well, I’ve just provided a clue.
Ideally, the film would find a way to resemble the games by capturing the characters as well as the rough and tumble style of action. Sure, the games last a good 20-30 hours, but it’s not as though the films that inspired them (Indiana Jones is referenced several times in this film) were lacking in this department. Sure, it’s fun to have the banter playout as it does, but the film has no idea how to make the drama more interesting or urgent beyond the aforementioned brother Sam, who’s now gone.
An exciting threat could help, but Uncharted doesn’t really know what to do with the villains either. Antonio Banderas is featured for a while as a super-rich guy that wants to be more super-rich because it’s his birthright. He’s hired a mercenary, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who also has eyes on getting rich. Just once, I’d want to see these villains succeed and know if they end up really enjoying the amount of riches they’ve gained or if they have an existential crisis instead. Perhaps having that amount of wealth makes them realize the error of their ways, and they end up turning everything around, legitimizing their practices, and giving back to their communities.
Any of this would be more interesting than what’s going on here, as there’s no real threat or menace created by these foes, just posturing and the delay of their inevitable defeat. It’s not a casting issue. The writing does these characters no favors, which is a shame when considering how Uncharted, the game, received plenty of acclaim based mainly on the strong work with the story and various characters. Sure, the action is incredible too, but this movie can only do so much to make up for it in that department as well.
Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom) has not impressed me very much in the past, and he continues down that path here as well. It’s admirable to see the big plane stunt (taken out of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception) featured so heavily in the marketing, as it is unique for a film, give or take James Bond’s similar situation in The Living Daylights. Outside of this, Fleischer and his team only have so much to offer. It’s nice to see globetrotting adventure stuff on display, but there’s no real X-factor here. Even the addition of another video game fan-favorite character, Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), comes with little to energize what’s taking place.
Perhaps it’s unfair to the good-natured effort being put forward in Sony’s attempt to make a decent product out of their other product. The problem I have is how uninspired it feels, as this essentially functions as a copy of a copy, and a very tame one at that. Perhaps a sturdier sequel will have the opportunity to take more chances with the material.
With what’s presented here, it’s a bloodless, relatively empty adventure (there’s very little in the way of scale beyond an admittedly fun concept for a finale). That may be enough for those craving anything like this. Still, coming across as a step down from games that really knew how to bring the Spielbergian qualities to the material, it’s hard to give Uncharted: The Movie much credit. Much like Lara Croft, Nathan Drake could use some next-gen help.