February 21, 2022
In terms of adapting a video game to film, Uncharted should have been the easiest one yet. The cinematic sequences are all there, from the plane ejection and sinking cruise ship in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, to the train sequence in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. These levels contained some of the most impressive moments in video game history, with the sound and visuals delivering enough excitement to please even the most adventurous of spirits.
Even though it seemed like a slam dunk on paper, publisher Sony struggled for years to get a film adaptation off the ground. They tried to get the ball rolling in 2008, only a year after the first game in the series was released. Things stagnated for a while until The Fighter and American Hustle writer/director David O. Russell was announced to be helming the project in 2010. In hindsight, Russell was an odd choice, and both parties were better off going their separate ways. Little did Sony know that Russell would only be the first of six directors to be attached to the project before leaving shortly after.
Eventually, in 2017, Tom Holland was announced for the lead role of Nathan Drake, with Mark Wahlberg, the original choice for Nathan back in the Russell days, playing his older partner, Sully. Zombieland and Venom director Ruben Fleischer came aboard, and the film was finally completed after a decade of turmoil.
And yet after all this time, I still would much rather play the Uncharted games a second time than watch the Uncharted movie again.
Working as a mix-and-match of different story elements within the game series, Uncharted starts with the street-smart orphan Nathan Drake working at a bar. There he meets Sully, who offers to make Nathan his partner in a search for lost Spanish pirate gold worth nearly $5 billion. Also on the hunt for the treasure is Santiago Moncada, an heir to the family that funded the pirate’s expedition, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
From there, the two parties bounce off each other in their hunt, which takes them from New York to Barcelona to the Philippines. Except it’s obvious that much of this movie never took place in any of those locations, with dubious green screening utilized as a cheap shortcut.
The Uncharted games were often seen as the video game equivalent of the Indiana Jones series, with the bonus that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was a great fourth entry while Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets worse the more that hindsight allows. Both those series made great use of locations, taking the audience around the world on death-defying journeys.
2022’s Uncharted doesn’t have that authentic feeling of adventure, as everything is kept bottled up. The characters in the film are in disbelief at what’s happening, but we as the audience feel none of that. It’s all weightless and formulaic, plodding from one beat to the next.
What saves Uncharted from being a total trainwreck is the relative likeability of its cast. No one can argue that Tom Holland has been one of, if not the best portrayals of Spider-Man. But the jury is still out if he can carry a film outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s had little success over the years shedding his boyish looks in streaming titles such as The Devil All the Time or Cherry. Even if that same boyishness makes Holland a bit of a miscast, his charm and banterous chemistry with Wahlberg keep the film light on its toes.
As far as video game adaptations go, Uncharted is one of the better ones if the bar it has to jump over is generously low. It makes a slightly amusing two hours, with nothing exceptional to make it stick once the credits roll. If you have more time to spare, I’d recommend playing the games. But if you only have two hours, you could do worse than seeing this.