After languishing in development hell for over fourteen years, the film adaptation of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted is finally here. Those who have played the games know of its ultra-cinematic style during its large set pieces, where the player must accomplish exuberant stunts as Nathan Drake. The train chase in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the best PS3 video game sequences of all time. And so, when a film adaptation of an already cinematic game hits theatres, one could ask how director Ruben Fleischer and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung will ever replicate the style of the video game. Spoiler alert: they don’t, but still manage to churn out a few enthralling action sequences for us to soak in.
The movie’s best action sequences are presented in the IMAX ratio of 1.90:1: where Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) falls from a plane without a parachute, in a nod to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and its swashbuckling climax, meshing the over-the-top ridiculousness of a Fast & Furious film with Pirates of the Caribbean. Both don’t reach the same exhilarating feeling of playing the video game and pretending you’re Nathan Drake but are still quite enjoyable in their own right. This is as close to a tribute to the game as you’ll ever get. Chung knows how to shoot for IMAX and loves to spin his camera, so the audience has the same point of view of Drake’s dizzying fall or keeps moving his camera during the climax as the antagonists jump from one ship to another in an attempt to take them over.
For once, these action scenes don’t feel as if Hollywood is releasing yet another piece of algorithmically-driven “content.” Instead, there’s enough care in Chung’s cinematography and Fleischer’s direction to make fans of the game excited and adventure film fans satisfied. Of course, some will say that the movie’s plot re-treads better adventure films, but isn’t the Uncharted video game series a tribute to Indiana Jones-esque adventures?
So it’s only natural that the film follows the same vein, where Drake and Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) hunt for a buried treasure from the Magellan expedition while simultaneously being pursued by billionaire Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) for it. Teaming up with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), Drake and Sully will continuously move from one location to the next in the hopes of finding the treasure in time before Moncada discovers it.
So a basic plot introduces the audience to the cinematic version of Nathan Drake, the same way a basic story introduced us to Nathan Drake in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. And the finished product gives the same result as the first game: enjoyable enough, albeit quite flawed. Its strength comes in its action sequences and performances, which are the two main elements that made the first game memorable.
Tom Holland has enough charisma to make him work as a young Nathan Drake. Still, there’s the lingering feeling that he’s playing a Spider-Man variant who’d appear in an episode of What If…? where our friendly neighborhood hero became a friendly neighborhood treasure hunter. Holland uses the same intonation as Peter Parker, which makes him indistinguishable from his performances as Spider-Man and Nathan Drake. But there are instances where he hits the same emotional levels as Nolan North’s, especially when thwarted in action scenes. For example, when he screams, “Oh, God!” as he realizes his foot is strapped on a crate that goes out of the plane, that’s Nathan Drake right there.
He also shares palpable chemistry with Mark Wahlberg, who, against all odds, delivers a somewhat decent performance as Sully. Unfortunately, he shares virtually no character traits that make Sully who he is (even if Fleischer desperately tries to make him wear a fake mustache and hint at his love for cigars). Still, his chemistry with Holland is enticing enough that both actors carry pretty much the entire movie for themselves.
It’s worth noting that Holland’s scenes with Sophia Ali’s Chloe Frazer are more interesting than Sully’s because Ali gives the best performance of the entire film. She understands the character she’s portraying better than the two leads and gives her character justice. It’s that simple. Holland’s charm works for him, even though some may think he’s playing too much Peter Parker in Nathan Drake, and Wahlberg’s usual Marky Mark antics pair well with Holland, but he’s no Sully. It’s a shame, though, that an actor of the caliber as Antonio Banderas is wasted like that. His villainous Moncada is as underdeveloped as many video-game movie antagonists may come without spoiling. A twist in the film’s midpoint completely tarnishes the character’s arc in the most unsatisfying way possible. Tati Gabrielle is a badass enough side antagonist as Bradock, but Banderas should’ve been front and center until the bitter end.
As a result, Uncharted is an enjoyable enough video game adaptation, but nothing more. Its basic plot and central twist regarding Banderas’ character undermine its quality. Still, the movie has enough exciting action sequences in its belt to keep the audience engaged until the end. In addition, seeing the film in IMAX adds much-needed immersion to the film’s main action set pieces, even though its immersive levels aren’t as masterfully done as in Uncharted 2-4. Still, there are worse video game movies than this one, and you’re better off going to see Uncharted than Blacklight with Liam Neeson in cinemas this weekend.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Stars: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Tati Gabrielle, Sophia Ali, and Antonio Banderas
Runtime: 116 minutes
Country: United States