Bartender, history buff and part-time thief, Nathan Drake [Holland], is paired with treasure hunter Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan [Wahlberg] and sets off on an epic adventure to uncover the location of explorer Magellan’s lost gold. The fortune is an obsession held by his older brother Sam, who has gone missing, and Nathan hopes each clue will take him closer to the whereabouts of not only the treasure but his long lost sibling. Of course, Nathan and Sully aren’t alone and must work with and against other nefarious treasure hunters such as Sully’s associate Chloe Frazer [Ali], unscrupulous entrepreneur Santiago Moncada [Banderas] and his head mercenary Braddock [Gabrielle].
Uncharted is one of those video game franchises that gave gamers a playable film (I appreciate this is a reductive statement that will irritate both video game and film fans alike but bear with me). A contemporary Indiana Jones with quipping, gunfire, parkour and puzzles. Yet the transition to the big screen has been a fraught one. Years of production hell – so long that Wahlberg went from being a frontrunner to play Drake, to the role of the older mentor – have seen this project reworked to death and, unfortunately, it shows in the final mix.
On paper, several elements head strongly in the right direction. Holland is charming as hell and the hot thing, as far as the box office is concerned, Wahlberg is a dependable name to add a bit of on-screen validation, Banderas can be wonderfully menacing when required and the addition of up-and-comers like Ali and Gabrielle bring excitement and promise to the whole affair. And when you factor in the potential for sprawling sequels, this thing should be an easy win. However, part of the appeal of the games is that Drake has been searching for what he believes to be his family’s fortune for decades; he’s a little tired and jaded but still a cocky upstart. His adventures are pretty much in medias res and it’s not until the third game that we start exploring his history. The film opting for a younger Drake narrative is frankly the wrong story.
More than that, a lot of the chemistry and experience that alludes to adventures of the past is absent. Holland has the charisma but not the mileage and while Drake should be a bit haphazard but saved by luck, this version is pretty incompetent. On top of that, Sully is meant to have this mercurial friendly but shifty air about him but Wahlberg doesn’t hit it. And the way our two leads’ paths cross is painfully bullshit, rushed and very weak; whipping us into a story that we largely don’t feel invested in. All of which, leaves the motivations and agency feeling off, so when Drake is brought in on the hunt at the last minute, trying to decipher clues, he has no real idea, even going so far as to say: “you gave me the book an hour ago, how am I supposed to know?”
Without spoiling too much, there’s a mid-credits sequence – anyone familiar with Sony’s absurd marketing will have realised the scene in question.. because they included it in the trailer – and the promise of intrigue as Sully and Nathan interact with one another on a job is exactly where the film should have started. Much like Tomb Raider, Uncharted had all the potential to be better than some of the greatest treasure hunting movies and the source material itself because it could take what worked across the mediums and elevate it. Instead we are served up an achingly generic and fairly forgettable caper. At least Tomb Raider had the good grace to incorporate a quasi-supernatural element; Uncharted feels so made by committee that they’d be terrified to take any similar steps.
And as narratively limp as the movie is, it’s also technically lacking. Despite desperately trying to sell us on bombastic action sequences, the final result is surprisingly dull – in fact, the puzzles, the fights, the double-crosses, the humour: none of it lands. The entire thing spins its wheels a little too much, going through all the motions of a globetrotting adventure but with little of the exhilaration or excitement. Add to that a fairly rudimentary score from the ever-talented Ramin Djawadi and cinematography that fumbles all the CGI-heavy scenes, robbing us of weight and urgency, despite being helmed by Chung-hoon Chung – one of the finest cinematographers in the industry – and you have to wonder, how did so many talented people, create something so joyless and stale? If anyone is to be blamed, it’s Fleischer (who’s directorial track record has been pretty sub-par of late) but in all honesty, it could simply be that this film has had far too many hold-ups, far too many revisions and far too many cooks.
Is Uncharted an offensively bad adaptation? No, it doesn’t really hit high or low. But if the video games and all the films that inspired them were the real treasure, this release is surely the cheap plastic gift shop replica; it’ll do the job but it’s hideously overpriced and dulls by comparison.
11 February 2022
The Scene To Look Out For:
Midway through the story, there is a shift that one could classify as a twist. Essentially, the central villain is betrayed by his primary henchperson and they then position themselves as the true main antagonist. I don’t take a great deal of umbrage with this development but the way it is executed. You see, for dramatic effect and a surprise reveal, Braddock slits Moncada’s throat. The trouble is, this film is a 12a/PG-13 and pitching to the younger end of that scale. The impact that treachery needed is lost because the death has to be fairly quick and mostly off-screen. So we end up with a monologuing session, interrupted by a single swift action, little reaction and a small red line on the deceased’s neck with no additional blood leaking out. I’m not saying I need realism in this nonsensical adventure piece but for such a big pivot, it’s given so little gravitas and is indicative of how the film doesn’t really carry itself properly throughout.
I have to admit, I was rather impressed with Sophia Ali. When the story decides to utilise her, she is a solid, dependable support. The problem is, she’s all-too-often sidelined and in attempts for the film to “stay ahead of the audience” Chloe feels like an inevitable target for predictable flip-flopping loyalties.
“It’s a one of a kind, solid gold altar crucifix, hand-crafted in Barcelona in the early sixteenth century so yes, yeah, it’s pretty cool, yeah.”
In A Few Words:
“After nearly fifteen years of delays, no one would have assumed this film was going to turn out well – if at all – but this lacklustre offering still disappoints.”
Total Score: 2/5