Review: In Adapting a Video Game, a Charmless Uncharted Barely Holds Up as a Movie

I have some very pointed questions to ask devoted players of video games who actually look forward to the occasional film adaptations of those games. And while these are serious questions, I don’t really want to know the answers to them…but then, I kind of do. If one of the reasons you love whatever game is because of its cinematic qualities, why would you want a film version done at all? And if one of your complaints is that a movie adaptation isn’t enough like the game, why would you want a film to ape a game you already have? Wouldn’t you want something that is executed differently? Along those lines, if a particular actor seems miscast as a game character, why is that a problem? Again, why would you want someone who looked exactly like the person in the game when you already have that guy in the game.

The hard truth of all video game adaptations is that actual gamers are probably the last people on Earth who should be watching them. And no video game-based movie is going to succeed by any measure unless it appeals to people like me who have never played a modern video game in their adult lives. If an unapologetic action film like Uncharted can’t be allowed to succeed or fail on a purely cinematic level, regardless of its origins, then why would I care how it stacks up to the game on which it is based? My point is, I’m going to review the movie Uncharted and not the adaptation Uncharted. The good news for everyone is that Uncharted clamors to be mediocre on its own merits, and you don’t have to know shit about video games to figure that out fairly quickly.

From what I understand, this is technically a prequel to the games, featuring Tom Holland as a younger version of Nathan Drake, the young orphaned brother of a treasure hunter who escaped their orphanage when he was quite young and never came back to rescue Nick, but instead sent a series of postcards from around the world. The older brother was searching for the biggest undiscovered treasure of gold, which was originally amassed by none other than Ferdinand Magellan and was lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada (more on them later). Nick grows up to be Holland, a bartender and small-time thief who pickpockets society types at the bar where he works. It’s there where he meets Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who is actively in pursuit of the Magellan gold, had at one point worked with Drake’s brother, and is hoping Drake might have some insight into how to find it. The two eventually team up, call each other “Kid” and “Sully,” and start their search anew, not sure if they can even trust each other.

It doesn’t help that the pair are racing to the finish line against the modern Moncada heir, Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who believes the treasure is his by birthright; another hunter named Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who has one of two keys needed to unlock a special vault; and Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), working for Santiago and ruthless in her pursuit of the gold. Directed by Ruben Fleischer (both Zombieland movies, Venom), Uncharted certainly has a flair for action, even if the vast majority of it feels very CGI driven. Even still, there are a handful of fights and car chases that appear to have been handled practically, and those are some of the film’s best moments. Whereas, the jaw-dropping sequence centered on the open underbelly of a plane is loud and splashy but seems incredibly fake, taking viewers out of the movie immediately.

The mystery itself seems fairly standard-issue for a treasure-hunt movie, and the impossible-to-solve clues always seem highly solvable at exactly the right moment when things need to be hurried along. Whether a clue can be deciphered is almost never a measure of intelligence and is often due to dumb luck, which there is plenty of in this movie—emphasis on “dumb.” But the lack of brains of the film’s characters is nothing compared to their absent wit. Holland and Wahlberg exchange “humorous” banter like they hate each other on a cellular level, and the charming words they exchange with other characters aren’t much better. Drake is meant to be somewhat charming, but it simply doesn’t come through—and we know Holland has the capacity to be charming. On the other hand, Wahlberg is doing Wahlberg: fast-talking, a little bit of a chucklehead, a little too aggressive, and rarely actually funny. I don’t know if he’s miscast for this specific character, but he seems miscast for this type of film in a broader sense.

There are a couple of set pieces that at least work on a level to keep you awake (the aforementioned plane sequence being one of them). But there’s something about the climactic chase scene involving two cargo helicopters, each carrying one of Magellan’s gold-filled ships underneath them, that just didn’t get a single rise out of me. It looks fake, the amount of pounding the ships take without falling to pieces is just stupid, and since this film is a prequel of sorts, there was never a doubt in my mind about who was going to survive this presumably dangerous encounter. With all of the drama drained out of the situation, the action scene doesn’t have much to offer. That’s actually how I felt about a great deal of Uncharted. And to add insult to injury, there are two mid-credits scenes that sure make it seem like everyone involved in making this movie thinks they’re going to make a sequel. It’s a level of confidence that seems completely unearned and unwarranted. The more I consider Uncharted, the more I realize how much of it I disliked.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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