Uncharted is a game series that takes generic, B-movie action and makes it a visceral, gripping gaming experience. 2022’s Uncharted is a film adaptation of the Uncharted games but in reverse engineering the games the end result has circled all the way back to some generic, B-movie action, making this a faded copy of a copy. Still, the action is the only real reason to watch Uncharted and it isn’t bad as there are a few interesting set-pieces as the hero ping-pongs from one precarious death defying maneuver to the next. Although the story isn’t exactly great, and it thinks that long lost family member melodrama is more compelling than it actually is, there are some fun moments of banter between the two leads. It is a bland adaptation of a great game that springs to life sporadically.
Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a bartender and amateur archeology fact hound whose brother has been missing for years. One day a professional acquirer of antiques , ie. a treasure thief, named Sully (Mark Wahlberg) tells him he knew his brother and Sully needs Drake’s help to find a stash of ancient pirate gold. Nate hopes that this will lead him to his long lost brother, so he and Sully have to steal an mysterious old cross from another pair of adventurer archeologists, the nefarious Santiago (Antonio Banderas) and the also nefarious Braddock (Tati Gabrielle). With the help of the shady Chloe (Sophia Ali) they unlock various secret passages in underground lairs and find various maps that will lead them to treasure. However, in the world of high adventure and archeology, double-crosses can lead the mismatched buddies to doom.
If this all sounds a lot like Indiana Jones, that’s because it is as Uncharted owes a lot to that series. A scene with the crew in a church discovering underground catacombs is much like the scene in Last Crusade when Indy explores the library. In a moment that could be homage or just lazy, there’s a graphic of a plane with a flying red line to indicate where it is going. Unlike Indy, as this is more of a prequel to Drake’s origins. Starting with Drake before his adventuring begins, unlike in the game series that drops the player right in the middle of it, gives the film a generic “every franchise has to have a prequel” feel. The film has been in development for over a decade and it originally started off with Wahlberg as the guy to play Drake, but it took so long to get to film that he eventually took over the role of Drake’s often untrustworthy mentor, Sully. Aside from action sequences, the bitter banter between Wahlberg and Holland is the film’s next best feature. Every once in a while Sully admits he’s way too old to be doing this stuff. Sully is always going after treasure instead of caring about people and, not a spoiler, the finale of the movie hinges upon him realizing that the real treasure is friendship.
Holland is a likable lead and he has a decent physicality as he’s jumping off various objects as one would expect from a guy who played Spider-Man. There is a lot about how he’s missing his brother as the film opens with a flashback of them as kids to supposedly make the audience care. As Sully and Drake’s sidekick, Ali’s Chloe is there to be an exposition piece and get caught up in the action scenes. Santiago is supposedly the main villain and Banderas gets a good evil monologue or two and his abrupt exit from the film is well done. His evil underling Braddock just sort of shoots nasty glances at people but becomes more important as the film goes on. There’s some sort of hinted backstory between her and Sully that is under-explained and ultimately irrelevant.
The Uncharted games feature puzzle solving in ancient ruins that is way more fun to play than to watch actors slot crosses into cobblestones to open creaky doorways. It’s not something that translates very well to make the most exciting film. The action works much better with lots of spectacle. The film opens with Drake crawling up a line of cargo containers hanging out of an airplane that is very riveting and then sort of cheats and goes into a flashback until the movie catches up with the cargo container action scene in the middle. The punchline to the scene features a cameo by Nolan North who played Drake in the original games as he says he knows what Holland Drake has gone through. It’s a bit too wink-y but it works. The final action scene features two old pirate ships being carried off by helicopters with some wild moments as Drake lights up an old canon and everything smashes to bits. It’s loud and dumb but entertaining as the movie has established that Drake has a tricky lighter that refuses to function properly.
The videogame to film adaptation track record has always been spotty and Uncharted stays right in that middle lane. It isn’t bad or offensively a terrible adaptation of the game, it just has taken the set dressing of the series and put it on a sometimes fun but mostly forgettable action flick. And the Uncharted games kind of deserved better.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle and Antonio Banderas