Let me tell you a story about an adventurer called Nathan Drake. He burst on the scene in 2007 with his video game debut, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the Playstation 3. Immediately, his exploits caught the attention of Hollywood, wanting to turn his interactive escapades into a feature film. Under the polarizing eye of producer Avi Arad (Spider-Man franchise), Drake’s foray into motion picture languished in development hell, jumping from director to director and star to star. In the interim, Drake stayed content in starring in more video games. Now the time has come. Uncharted has made it to theaters, and Nathan Drake stands atop the X marking the spot. Will the character find fortune or is the Uncharted movie merely fool’s gold?
Uncharted stars Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a bartender and pickpocket with a more than cursory interest in treasure hunting. One day, a mysterious stranger named Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) comes into his bar, offering him the opportunity to find treasure long buried by the crew helping Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigate the globe. Drake clings fast to skepticism until Sullivan informs him that he’s a friend of Drake’s long-lost brother, Sam. Vowing to complete Sam’s work, Drake sets out on his first-ever adventure. Once rival forces led by wealthy heir Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his ruthless enforcer Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) set their sights on the treasure, the two realize they need help. They find it in the form of rough-and-tumble fortune seeker Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali).
Many, myself included, expressed deep concern for the route director Ruben Fleischer appeared to be taking with his adaptation of the beloved video games. The casting represents the biggest red flag pre-release. Holland, on the surface, doesn’t appear to be anywhere near old enough to play Nathan Drake. Wahlberg, who prior incarnations of this film cast as Drake himself, is a complete head-scratcher for Sully. Those initial impressions are hard to shake. You’re certainly not going to walk out of the film seeing either performance as a dead ringer for their video game namesake. Nevertheless, I have to give credit: Holland and Wahlberg blow expectations of their characters out of the water.
Holland’s Drake is charming as all hell. He isn’t 1:1 Nathan Drake, but he replaces that missing gruff edge with a sly wit and a healthy wallop of quirk. Now Wahlberg’s just plain having fun. His suave confidence meshes well with a bumbling arrogance that gives surprising depth to his interpretation. I could easily see Holland and Wahlberg growing into perfect reflections of their video game counterpart, which is not something I ever thought I’d say. Moreover, you couldn’t ask for a better Chloe Frazer in Ali, who walks away with her every scene. Same could be said for Gabrielle’s very lethal Jo, an original creation for the film. The only real weak link of the cast is Banderas, whose otherwise engaging villain often fades into the background. Nevertheless, Uncharted nails assembling a lovely cast of characters in its own right.
In its own right, Uncharted generally works quite well. Though never the most acclaimed director, Fleischer has an expert control of pacing. Moving from brawl to gunfight to tomb raiding and all that’s in between at a steady clip, there’s always something diverting happening in this movie. Which is a blessing, because the script leaves something to be desired. Writers Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway overload the film with babble about ancient expeditions, hidden locations, etc. to the point where it’s just background noise to quickly move the plot along. Another major fumble of Uncharted‘s script is the hasty implementation of a subplot involving Nathan’s brother. It’s initially intriguing but eats its own tail when it has nowhere to go. Really, its only purpose is to pay homage to the games and set up a sequel.
When focused on the moment, Uncharted makes you forget about the shortcomings of its script with some high-level action. An extended sequence in the first act where Drake and Sully attempt to rob an auction is damn near perfect in its execution. The stakes are high. The quips come fast and unforced. Most importantly for a film like this, there are several moments that make you wonder “how the hell is he gonna get out of this?”. There are several more sequences like this throughout the film: a fight in a plane, several solving of puzzles under a strict time limit, a finale involving not one but two floating pirate ships.
Ruben Fleischer practically makes Uncharted his demo reel for action sequences. Aided by excellent fight choreography, crisp cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, and a unique score from Ramin Djawadi, this is an excellently made film. Heck, combined with the great performances, so much of Uncharted just works. Whether or not it properly pays homage to the games is in the eye of the beholder. Confounding decisions with the script may put some viewers off entirely. That’s entirely fair. Taken as its own high-octane action-adventure, Uncharted does just what I need it to. I’ll take three more, at least. – James Preston Poole
Uncharted is now in theaters.