Uncharted is a fun popcorn movie but its weak script and paper-thin characters do little to break the mould of mediocre video game movie adaptations.
It’s been a turbulent process bringing Uncharted to the big screen with plans for a film based on the critically acclaimed series of video games dating all the way back to 2008.
For years the project was stuck in development hell and lost six directors before landing on Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer and the controversial casting of Tom Holland as Nathan Drake as well as Mark Wahlberg as his mentor Sully.
The unconventional casting choices drive home the idea that Uncharted is meant to act as a loose adaptation of the game series while still maintaining its adventurous spirit. Uncharted will entertain casual cinema goers.
Uncharted serves as an origin story for a young Nathan Drake as he forms a begrudging partnership with treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan and embarks on a globe-trotting adventure in search of riches and his missing brother.
There was a lot of scepticism surrounding Tom Holland’s casting as Nathan Drake especially after so much time playing Peter Parker in the MCU but Holland is able to alleviate fears of type-casting with his performance in Uncharted.
Tom Holland is the heart of this film and carries the whole thing on his back, but more importantly it shows off his range as an actor.
With Uncharted, Holland is able to prove that he’s leading man material with a cool, charismatic and charming performance.
On the other end of the scale is Mark Wahlberg who offers no range at all. Wahlberg has a good dynamic with Holland but for the most part it feels like Wahlberg is playing it safe with his performance throughout.
On paper, Wahlberg’s character Sully has a strong arc tied to the film’s themes of greed, however the payoff doesn’t feel earned.
Nor does his relationship with the young Nathan Drake, by the time the credits role there’s little sense that these two will become the life-long friends as seen in the video game series.
Chloe Frazer, played by Sophia Ali, is a strong addition to the initial duo of Holland and Wahlberg and has the closest resemblance to her videogame counterpart, while Antonio Banderas’ performance as the villainous Moncado is mostly wasted.
Banderas’ character has all the makings of a good villain with a solid motivation and goal combined with Banderas’ intense performance, but we don’t spend enough time with his character for it to have any impact.
A pleasant surprise was Moncado’s henchwoman Braddock, played by Tati Gabrielle who at times outshines Banderas and provides a physical threat for Nathan and Sully.
Uncharted moves at a breakneck pace as the team travel across the world exploring tombs and crypts in search of clues to the where abouts of treasure hidden during the Magellan expedition. Along the way there’s plenty of action set pieces and death traps that feel like a greatest hits selection from moments across the games.
These set pieces go a long way in elevating the film’s fun factor, however there’s none of the grandiose scale or tension that made these scenes so iconic in the games. Rarely is there the sense that these characters are in danger.
The plot and structure is focused squarely on getting Nate and Sully from point A to B in between set pieces and brief moments of “banter” which feel awkward and forced. The humour here never quite hits the mark which is disappointing compared to the genuinely witty and clever dialogue which has become a staple of the game series.
Uncharted eventually builds to a nonsensical CGI set piece across two airborne pirate ships. It’s the only set piece in the film that hasn’t been directly lifted from the games, it’s a shame that it feels so hollow and lifeless.
The biggest problem plaguing Uncharted is its lack of originality. The original Uncharted game was inspired by Indiana Jones and it can be an exhilarating experience with a controller in hand, but when it comes to the big screen there’s the sense that we’ve seen it all before.
The film ends on a big cliff-hanger which teases more adventures to come, and if that’s the case then a sequel should incorporate the secret ingredient of the games with more focus on characters and relationships. This is an integral part of what makes the franchise so special. If there are future instalments, then realising this is essential.
Uncharted really does have the best of intentions despite its shortcomings. It’s a light-hearted outing for families that will keep them entertained for two hours, although it may be a while longer before there’s a truly excellent video game movie adaptation.
There’s some potential for a sequel but its up to the filmmakers to embrace the source material.