Movie Review: Uncharted

Long ago, back in the mists of time, the Playstation 3 had no games. This all changed in 2009, when Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was released and packed in with the console — admittedly a paradox when Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released on the same platform two years earlier — and Sony was saved. In this series, which is like a modernised Indiana Jones (or, more cynically, “a boy version of Tomb Raider”), a man with a gun and preternatural ability for climbing globetrots for treasure and gets involved in a dizzying series of betrayals, triple crosses, and flirtations with the supernatural. 

Tom Holland’s live action Uncharted gets a lot of this right, but it forgets that the original games are so cinematic that a movie with real people and inexplicable Papa John’s product placement wasn’t strictly necessary. These aren’t quite the characters that players know and love, and Mark Wahlberg isn’t the draw that he thinks he is, but Uncharted is a fun time regardless.

History buff Nate Drake (Holland, Spider-Man: No Way Home) is approached by treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg, Infinite) to help him search for the lost gold of Ferdinand Magellan. Their quest takes them across the world, and their paths cross with war criminal Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard), ruthless mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, TV’s You) and rival treasure hunter Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali, TV’s The Wilds).

You know that something’s slightly off when Nate kills a man and apologises for doing so; Uncharted is famous for its infinite waves of murder committed by the main man, to the point that there is a trophy for killing one thousand people. In this movie, murder is only committed by the truly evil, because how else would you know they were evil? Holland saves his physicality (no webs in sight) for parkour and running kicks, which mainly serve him well. Wahlberg gets around the action by either being absent for much of it or piloting a vehicle. 

Yet much of what Uncharted offers works. It wisely eschews directly adapting a pre-existing story while retaining key characteristics of the legacy cast, and director Ruben Fleischer (TV’s Superstore) keeps it bouncing along with only the occasional hiccup. While the movie could stand to have more ruins — much of it takes place in populated cities rather than remote temples and troves filled with deadly puzzles — it opens with a classic sequence that posits “what if Uncharted 2‘s train ascent was on a plane?”, which it takes its sweet time answering but gets there nonetheless.

The script, by Rafe Judkin (TV's Wheel of Time) and the team of Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Men In Black: International) mostly understands what is expected of it, but not everything about Uncharted is well thought out: Moncada's paternal conflict is underdeveloped to the point that it feels like most of it was left on the cutting room floor; Braddock is Sully's ex but is half Wahlberg's age, which doesn't fly quite so well in 2022; the final part of the climactic set piece doesn't hold up to scrutiny, in that it really doesn't have to work out the way it does. None of this gets in the way of the overall piece, and while Uncharted doesn't have most of the feel of its namesake, it largely succeeds on its own terms.

Uncharted is a video game movie that turned out a lot better than anyone could have reasonably expected. While it lacks the buddy system that made the games so enjoyable, it offers some spectacle and an action vehicle for Holland that doesn't require a PHD and more than twenty ancillary films under the viewer's belt. It's difficult to say if the franchise has legs in this economy, but there's enough to Uncharted to justify more.

Uncharted opened in Australian cinemas on February 17, 2022.

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer.

Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle and Antonio Banderas.

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