Fortune favors the bold.
Although I’ve only played a couple of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted video games, the best thing that can be said about the big-screen adaptation is that it eventually does feel like we’re watching a live-action Uncharted film. It does, however, take some time to get there, which is ironic, seeing as the movie itself has been stuck in development hell for well over a decade, passing through the hands of filmmakers such as David O. Russell, Shawn Levy, Dan Trachtenberg, and even Travis Knight.
The final film comes to us courtesy of director Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland (2009), with a script penned by feature newcomer Rafe Judkins, along with Art Marcum, Iron Man (2008), and Matt Holloway, Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). It wasn’t solely the production that was troubled but the casting as well, chiefly when it came to choosing an actor to portray the infamous treasure-hunting protagonist Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake. The obvious choice would have been Nathan Fillion, who shares an uncanny resemblance to the character, the game’s legions of fans also backing the decision on social media. Fillion’s status as a ‘movie star,’ however, may have hindered his chances. Fillion did, though, get the opportunity to play Nathan Drake in a live-action Uncharted fan film that was made back in 2018.
Hiccups aside, studio Sony’s new Uncharted movie is actually a fun ride, and works best as a light treasure hunting adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones (1981-2008), Tomb Raider (2001-18), and National Treasure (2004-07) — think wild exotic locations, ancient hidden treasures, and primeval booby traps. While the film never quite captures the experience and magic of playing the widely popular PlayStation video games on which it’s based, it’s still an über enjoyable turn-your brain off escapade that offers us a 116-minute globe-trotting distraction, so long as one can suspend their disbelief.
With Sony’s popular Spider-Man star Tom Holland cast as a younger Drake, this Uncharted movie sort of works as a prequel for the games. Here, Holland plays street-smart orphan and petty thief Nathan Drake, who was separated from his adventure-seeking brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow), fifteen years ago at an orphanage; Sam promises to reunite with Nate when they’re older.
The story ignites several years later when Nathan is working as a bartender in New York, using sleight of hand tricks his brother taught him to steal valuables from patrons. Nathan is eventually visited by the roguish Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a fortune hunter who’d worked with Sam in the past after the brothers had split. Sully asks Nathan to join him on an expedition to find a ton of lost gold connected to Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s ill-fated expedition from the 1500s.
Although Nathan is hesitant to help at first, he ultimately agrees, seeing as Sully also claims to have knowledge of Sam’s whereabouts — Nathan had received several elusive postcards from Sam over the years. And so, the men embark on a search to find a pair of gold-plated crucifixes that will supposedly point them in the direction of the treasure. They soon encounter Sully’s ex-colleague Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who happens to have one of the crosses the guys need, and reluctantly join forces. Also on the hunt for the riches is Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), an affluent fortune hunter and heir to the family that funded Magellan’s original expedition. Santiago has help from ruthless mercenary and Sully’s former accomplice Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), along with a beefy Scotsman (Steven Waddington) with a thick accent.
Jumping from locations such as Spain to the Philippines, filmmaker Fleischer keeps things moving at a swift pace, fast enough to divert patrons from thinking too much about the narrative and realizing just how easy it is for our protagonists to solve this five-hundred-year-old puzzle. While there’s treasure hunting a plenty, Uncharted sadly treks closer to National Treasures’ historical route as opposed to Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones’ more fantastical paths. With that said, there’s still a bunch of top-notch set pieces to enjoy, from an early skirmish at a swanky NYC auction house to a hunt in the catacombs under Santa Maria del Pi in Barcelona Spain. The highpoints, quite literally, however, are a couple of aerial sequences. The first is a clash set on a cargo plane that’s been inspired by Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and the second is the bonkers finale set off the coast of the Philippines involving two hanging Spanish galleons and a couple of helicopters. Sure, some of the VFX are cartoony, and the film has a lot of evident greenscreens, but the comical aesthetic kind of works with the film’s overall goofy vibe.
Uncharted also works thanks to the animated cast, who are clearly having a good ol’ time. While Tom Holland wouldn’t have been my first choice to strap on the holsters and become the iconic Nate Drake, he does a fine job as a younger version of the well-known character — I could easily see him growing into the part, eventually. Mark Wahlberg, who was initially set to star as Drake when the movie was in the early stages of development, does okay as Sully, despite basically playing himself. Even so, Holland and Wahlberg possess enough buddy movie chemistry to make their dynamic work — they’re a hoot every time they’re onscreen together.
Sophia Ali, Truth or Dare (2018), stands out as Sully’s old companion and former love interest Chloe, while Tati Gabrielle, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018-20), steals most of her scenes as the bad-ass villain Jo Braddock. Unfortunately, Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro (1998), is completely wasted in a nothing part playing Santiago Moncada, an antagonist that appears to be an important piece of the puzzle until he’s kind of written off.
Despite being peppered with a bunch of nods and Easter eggs that fans of the IP should pick up — a Naughty Dog sticker, for instance, and a dad joke taken directly from the games — Uncharted should appease enthusiasts, newcomers, and casual viewers alike; it’s entertaining enough. It also features a couple of credit scenes that work as teasers for future films should the series be fortunate enough to continue. It won’t win any points for originality and possesses very little surprises, but Uncharted is still an amusing adventure that’s worth embarking on.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)