Uncharted (PG-13) ★★½

Review Date: February 18th, 2022

Tell me if you've heard this refrain before: The experience of playing a game is more rewarding than watching a movie adaptation. Sadly, this applies as much to Uncharted as to nearly every previous game-to-movie translation. Even Uncharted, touted by many reviewers as "cinematic" at the time of its 2007 debut (on the PS3 platform), hasn't been able to crack it, arguing for the importance of interactivity. It's not the same thing to sit back and watch, no matter how talented the actors may be.

Uncharted (the movie) is intended to function a prequel to Uncharted (the game). For those familiar with the series (which spanned four titles plus a spin-off), the movie functions more as an accessory than a necessity. It's easy to nit-pick the points of divergence but the filmmakers are clearly knowledgeable about the source material. There are tons of Easter Eggs (including a cameo by Nolan North, the actor who portrayed protagonist Nathan Drake on the console) and some of the action sequences and visual designs are heavily influenced by the games. Those unfamiliar with Uncharted (the game) may find this to be little more than a Raiders of the Lost Ark knock-off.

The action/adventure sequences are part of the problem. In the game, these represent a challenge to be conquered (often requiring multiple replays). Success, when it happens, brings a sense of achievement. Seeing them executed on screen takes away the ultimate satisfaction of the victory. Nearly every action scene in Uncharted is visually impressive but none provides the adrenaline jolt that films like Raiders of the Lost Ark can deliver. They're better than boring but not quite exhilarating. Arguably, the most successful aspects of Uncharted relate to character interaction. But even in that department, they fall short of what one gets in the video game.

Following some prologue stuff, the movie starts out with bartender and part-time thief Nathan Drake (Tom Holland sans Spidey suit) meeting con artist and treasure hunter Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who recruits him for a job. Victor is seeking an ancient, bejeweled cross that, when combined with a similar artifact in the possession of his "associate," Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), will reveal the location of Magellan's lost gold. Sully has plans in place to steal the cross when it goes up for auction but he needs a partner to turn off the building's power. He chooses Nathan because of a past association with Nathan's older brother, Sam. When it comes time to do the job, however, there are complications. The auction house is crawling with bad guys - the greedy and amoral heir to the Moncada empire, Santiago (Antonio Banderas); his right-hand woman, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle); and her henchmen (Steven Waddington, Pingi Moli). Following the auction heist, Nathan and Sully travels first to Barcelona then, after adding Chloe to their team, on to the Philippines (where no filming was actually done).

Tom Holland brings a mix of self-deprecating humor and wide-eyed optimism to the role of Drake, who is fresher and less cynical than in the games. One has to wonder, however, whether Holland is currently too closely identified with Peter Parker/Spider-Man for him to be accepted as another action hero. There are times when I half-expected him to start shooting webs from his wrists. The other bright spot is Sophia Ali, whose world-weary Chloe is a great addition to the cast. Sadly, Mark Wahlberg is basically Mark Wahlberg (he has a tendency to play almost every character the same way) and bears only a passing resemblance to the video game's version of his character. The villains are all weak and three-dimensional, with Antonio Banderas suffering from being grossly underused. Moncada's arc is strangely truncated.

It has taken more than a dozen years and in excess of six directors to get Uncharted to the screen. The project gained traction shortly after the success of the first video game (with David O. Russell attached to direct). It then cycled into and out of development hell until director Ruben Fleischer came on board and got the thing made. It's impossible to say whether Russell's vision for the film would have worked better than Fleischer's, although the Uncharted that went before the cameras too often feels more like a two-hour advertisement for the video games than a legitimate stand-alone motion picture. It's all about marketing and branding - combine a popular game title with a recognizable (and hot) Hollywood star and make sure the end product is recognizably connected to the source material - and the expectation is that all facets of the product will get a revenue boost. The soullessness of this model may explain why Uncharted is bland and disappointing without being outright disastrous.

© 2022 James Berardinelli