From the moment an Uncharted movie was announced over 10 years ago, I was half in the bag. I really enjoyed Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter (still his best performance) and the credibility of what a director like David O. Russell could bring to the table was exciting (see also Silver Linings Playbook) despite Wahlberg being a little too serious and Russell bullsh**ting about playing the games. Well now Wahlberg due to the accelerated aging process of Hollywood has graduated into the mentor role and we have actors playing characters 10 years older than them.
Plot: A twenty-something former orphan and New York City Bartender Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is approached by a stranger, Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who claims to have worked with his brother Sam on finding the lost treasure of Ferdinand Magellan. The greatest treasure that has never been found. The thing is Billionaire-heir Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) has a bloody claim on it along with his ruthless right hand Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), an ex-associate of Sully’s.
As a 90’s kid it’s nice to see those born in the same decade you were, finally show up on the big screen and lead a $100 million dollar blockbuster that isn’t a superhero film.
There are Hollywood clichés here aplenty but thankfully none of the plagiarism I’ve seen from streaming films (mostly starring The Rock) that lift entire sequences from other movies. Writers Rafe Judkins, a former Survivor contestant, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway cook up a decent climax set on two flying pirate ships. Which is more creativity than you’d expect from the writers of Transformers 5 and The Wheel of Time. I wonder if Judkins if he used any of his Survivor experience when writing the film.
Sony is not known for producing high-quality well-reviewed blockbusters and Uncharted is not different. Fortunately, producers Avi Arad (Venom: Let Their Be Carnage) and Charles Roven (The Suicide Squad) have taken an old-fashioned, meat & potatoes approach to the material. Uncharted lends itself better to cinematic adaptation than any other video game and as a result it clears the low bar of the genre’s best.
Everything that does not move the plot forward is excised for the sake of efficiency. The movie wastes no time getting to places we as audience members have been to before in the Indiana Jones and National Treasure films, but there’s enough effort from enough filmmaking professionals like cinematographer Chung Hoon Chung (Last Night in Soho, It) and Oscar-nominated editors Chris Lebenzon (Top Gun) and Richard Pearson (United 93) that the simple guiding hand of Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland: Double Tap) keeps the film from afloat.
So what’s missing? The production design for a $100 million movie despite nice location shooting can look cheap and the quality of CGI is dodgy. Most frustrating is the lack of romance in an adventure film. If this movie is aping Indiana Jones (referenced at one point) which is based on 30’s adventure serials there needs to be Errol Flynn like romance. Hollywood in the last decade has become so chaste in an effort to appeal to more conservative countries it dilutes the final product. It wouldn’t be so bad if the characters they were portraying weren’t already romantic in the video games but that element was one of the few things original writer Amy Hennig put in that made the games feel more adult despite being rated T for Teen. Instead, we have relationships that are vaguely referenced: Sully sarcastically refers to Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) as Nate’s girlfriend but nothing comes of it. There’s even a scene where the two share a hotel room and Nate is shirtless while Chloe sleeps. Later in the night he has his shirt back on. Then in the morning he is sleeping and she is already gone. Sully’s sexual relationship with bad girl Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, looking stunning) is referenced in a fight scene between them but that’s impossible to imagine. Not because Wahlberg is 50 and Gabrielle is 25, but how is that even possible in a world where nobody kisses?
As a fan who wrote about all the ways this series could be adapted years ago I was willing to accept the changes and was happy to see characters my age on screen. It isn’t often you see twenty-somethings actually play twenty-somethings as Holland, Gabrielle and Ali are. The awkwardness of pairing fresher talent with players twice their age; Oscar nominees Wahlberg (50) and Antonio Banderas (62) feels like a compromise of a 10-year patchwork script. It’s a waste of talent that the Banderas’ baddie Santiago Moncada gets enough establishing scenes to set up his motivation only to have his screen time cut short. I wonder if catching COVID during production had anything to do with it. The score by Ramin Djiwadi feels recycled only coming to life when the memorable original theme music plays. The only compromise out of this film that works is the casting of Wahlberg as Sully. Everyone including Wahlberg himself will tell you him being cast in that part is a surprise as he looks more like Drake than Sully. But Wahlberg’s motor-mouthed routine gives him and Holland chemistry and the film its energy and Wahlberg can do it in his sleep. In fact, his literal sleepiness which has hurt films like Infinite helps here as it adds to the general tiredness of the character he’s playing who is supposed to be 15 years older. And serves as an early passing of the torch to Holland.
As a fan of the games I look forward to more assured on-screen adventures of Nathan Drake.
Grade: B-, 74/100
Columbia Pictures Presents, an association with Atlas Entertainment and PlayStation Productions, a Ruben Fleischer film
Tom Holland, UNCHARTED, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Tati Gabrielle, Sophia Ali, Cinematography by Chung Hoo Chung, Music by Ramin Djiwadi,
Written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway