Before I get into my review for Uncharted I have to state that I am a massive fan of the video game franchise that was the basis of the movie. I have played through the series multiple times so I think I have a fair understanding of the franchise, with me getting to know the lead characters pretty well.
The film version is more of an origin story, telling of the meeting of a young Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) and Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). Sully is an old associate of Nathan’s brother Sam and wants his help in recovering a fortune lost 500 years ago by the house of Moncada. Nathan accepts Sully’s proposal thinking that it will help him find his brother.
As well as following the trail of clues and puzzles, the duo also have to contend with Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who believes he and his family are the rightful heirs to the fortune. Santiago is willing to do whatever it takes to reclaim this fortune, even partnering up with violent mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) who doesn’t mind killing our heroes if it means a suitable reward.
The film adaptation has taken considerable time to reach the screen, with numerous stop and starts. At one point director David O. Russell was all set to direct which would have starred this film’s co-star Mark Wahlberg in the lead role of Nathan Drake. That version was never meant to be with it passing through the likes of Neil Burger and Dan Trachennerg before it finally went into production with Zombieland (2009) director Ruben Fleischer at the helm.
Now, the idea of Hollywood turning one of my favorite game franchises into a movie didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Previous attempts at bringing popular games to the screen haven’t exactly been successful. Still I was trying to be optimistic, and perhaps with the right cast and director they may be able to overcome the obstacles that most other adaptations have faced.
Then came the announcement of the (mis) cast. As great as Tom Holland is as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, he isn’t who instantly springs to mind when thinking of Nathan Drake, with his young age being the first cause for concern. However, with the announcement that this would be more of an origin story I thought that perhaps he can grow into the role.
Then came the surprise casting of Mark Wahlberg as his co-star. In no shape or form is he the right choice to play Drake’s mentor Victor Sullivan. Being a fan of Wahlberg I was at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least his take on the character might be memorable.
Then came the trailers, which just left me cold. Showing scenes that were clearly inspired by the games most famous set pieces, they just managed to make the upcoming film appear bland rather than the blockbuster fans were hoping for. Even then, how many quality films have had poor trailers. Hopefully the actual film will overcome its lacklustre promotion.
But no, sadly the finished film is every bit the disappointment I was expecting. Now, from reading that lengthy interdiction you may be thinking I went in with my mind made up but I was still hoping for the best. Even if Uncharted was a poor adaptation of the games, I at least thought it would still be an enjoyable action adventure.
I don’t want to put all the blame at Fleischer’s feet, but after Zombieland each of his subsequent films have managed to disappoint, although I admit to getting enjoyment from Gangster Squad (2013) even if it was more Dick Tracy (1990) than Untouchables (1987). As disappointing as his filmography has become he at least shows a flair for action and is able to get memorable performances from his cast. He shows these skills once again with Uncharted but they aren’t enough to overcome the film’s other issues.
If anything, at least Uncharted is better than Fleischer’s last film, the disappointing Venom (2018). I am sure that the film does have some fans, enough to get its own lacklustre sequel, but I don’t think many would disagree that it wasn’t exactly a great achievement in filmmaking.
One thing Venom did have in its favour though was that it was never boring. One of the main issues of Fleischer’s take on Uncharted is its pace. For an action adventure film it certainly takes its time getting to the action.
Probably because of this, Fleischer chooses to open the film with the film’s most memorable action scene, a cargo plane set shootout come mid-flight escape. Any fans of the games will recognize this scene from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011), itself inspired by a similar scene from The Living Daylights (1987).
This piece of action is decent, but has no context at this point in the film. We haven’t been introduced to any of the characters yet, with the audience just being thrown straight into the action. After this introduction the film flashes back to days before to show how our lead character ended up in such a predicament.
To be honest, I have seen many films taking this approach, showing our characters in jeopardy only to flash back to days before then showing the lead up to events. The difference here is that it would appear the reason the film opens with this action scene is that it is a considerable time before we are treated to anything like this again. Additionally, it is one of only a couple of sequences that is at least reminiscent of the games.
As the film flashes back we are introduced to a seriously retconned Nathan Drake. Rather than make him the adventurer game fans know and love, instead they have made him more like Tom Cruise’s character from Cocktail (1988). Working as a cocky bartender, Drake spends his time chatting up the clientele while stealing from them.
Why screenwriters Rafe Lee Judkins, Matt Holloway and Art Marcum thought that it was a good idea to change the origin of the character I’ll never know. Because we all know how much fans love it when you throw away everything that makes the character who they are so they can put their own stamp on it. Perhaps his origin was changed to facilitate the casting of Holland, so it was more suited to his qualities.
In regards to Holland, he puts in a suitably agile performance, with the film giving him enough opportunities to do pull ups and carry off parkour moves. To be honest, there isn’t much that separates his take on Nathan Drake from Spider-Man. One of the things about Nathan Drake in the games is he’s something of an everyman. Sure he does carry out superhuman feats, but he is relatable and takes as much of a beating as he gives out.
While Holland does take a few beatings during the course of the film, he doesn’t have that everyman quality about him. A late cameo from original Drake actor Nolan North is just further evidence of how miscast Holland is. Saying this, I expect those going into the film fresh without any prior knowledge of the character will be suitably impressed by his performance.
As miscast as Holland is, he is nothing next to Wahlberg’s Sully. In the games Sully is Drake’s best friend/mentor. Here he just comes across as an untrusting, deceitful a-hole who would be willing to betray Drake at a moment’s notice. In fact, the majority of the characters in the film come across as unlikable, with all being untrustworthy.
I understand that this is meant to be Sully and Drake’s first encounter, but there is literally nothing in Wahlberg’s performance that resembles the source material. Even so, Wahlberg does what he can with the material and shares some decent chemistry with Holland, with a few decent one liners between the two helping to lighten up proceedings.
Wahlberg does get into the action, even if the film’s main focus is Holland. Actually, during his action scenes I kept wondering if the film would have been better if they just had cast Wahlberg as Drake like David O. Russell had planned all those years ago. Sure, Wahlberg might be hitting 50 but he is still clearly adept at the action and would probably be more in line with the game version of Nathan Drake than Holland manages to be.
Sophia Ali’s Chloe Frazer at least resembles her video game counterpart, with the audience never sure they can trust her. Ali does well enough in the film although I wish she would have chosen an accent and stuck with it. During scenes it sounds as if she switches from English to Australian then on to South African.
Banderas’ villain is good value in his handful of scenes but is seriously underused as the film progresses with Tati Gabrielle’s mercenary pretty much being the main physical threat. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if Gabrielle posed any real threat, but the action she takes part in is seriously underwhelming.
She is accompanied by Steven Waddington’s inept mercenary, simply known as the Scotsman, with Waddington giving the film its worst performance. Yet again it would seem that Scotland is Hollywood’s go to destination for xenophobic comedy. I have lost count in the last year of how many Hollywood productions have Scottish characters that are merely there to be the butt of jokes.
What’s more insulting in Uncharted is that the filmmakers can’t even go to the trouble of casting a Scottish actor, instead getting an Englishman to butcher the accent. Hint Hollywood, we don’t actually sound like that. And to coin a phrase Waddington uses in the film, his attempt at a Scottish accent is “shite”.
When it comes to action, Fleischer does a decent job but none of it comes close to the set pieces that are included in the games, and to be honest I expected more of it in an Uncharted film. The majority of it seems quite bloodies, and I don’t mean in terms of violence or gore. It just seems bland.
However, there is one action scene that does in some way make up for what comes before, which Fleischer saves till the end. Only in the final third of the film does it start to finally feel like Uncharted, with an action set piece set on board dueling pirate ships hoisted into the air by helicopters looking as if it has been taken straight from one of the games. If only the previous 90 minutes could have matched this we may have been on to a winner.
I don’t take any pleasure in giving Uncharted a poor review, even if I am in no way surprised by its failings. Those who are just looking for a simple action adventure will probably find enough to enjoy, especially those with no prior knowledge of the source material. It appears that is the film’s target audience, with the majority of people online giving it praise having never played the games.
Clearly the producers envisage a sequel but unless Uncharted does some serious business at the box office I can’t see this happening.
Anyone wanting a more faithful on screen portrayal of Drake would be best looking out the short fan film Nathan Fillion made a few years back, with him and Stephen Lang as Sully showing what perfect casting looks like.
Plot: 2/5 Acting: 2.5/5 Action: 2/5 Overall: 2/5