I was chatting with an old buddy who doesn’t see many movies but plays a lot of games and mentioned to him how much Uncharted totally sucks. He asked, matter-of-factly, if I was surprised. The answer is no … but also yes? There was no doubt that a movie based on Naughty Dog’s hit series of PlayStation games faced an uphill battle in the quality department just by being based on a video-game. It’s not like the medium has a stellar track record of cinematic adaptations. Heck, we did a whole series of essays about that subject. Walking into this one with the inflated expectations of a 21st-century Indiana Jones would be ludicrous. Expecting something with the corny-but-entertaining energy of the first National Treasure would be optimistic. Still, somehow, Uncharted is a complete mess beyond comprehension, the sort of film where the secrets of the buried treasure are accessible only through the walls of a sterling-clean Papa John’s.
Yeah, you read that right. A clean Papa John’s. Talk about unrealistic.
Plenty of essays both here and on other film-centric websites have dissected the problems inherent in adapting a video-game into a two-hour narrative blockbuster, so it probably isn’t worth diving deep into them except to say Uncharted exhibits every stereotypical issue faced by this sort of project. There’s a lot of exposition that only really means anything to fans of the games. This particular story is a functional prequel to those, which means a lot of details are setup for plot points resolved by reading the Wikipedia entries for the series. (I don’t have time for games, OK?) As a novice to the franchise, it’s pretty frustrating to watch a movie that spends half its runtime nodding to stories I don’t care about without actually creating one for me to engage with on-screen.
Uncharted, as it is, follows Nate Drake (Tom Holland), an orphan thief who is drawn into an adventure by Sully (Mark Wahlberg), a fellow criminal who knew Nate’s missing brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow). Sam disappeared on an adventure with Sully where they were trying to find $5 billion of lost gold left behind by the Magellan expedition. Sully’s not necessarily trustworthy, but Nate ends up helping him anyway to figure out what happened to Sam. Along the way, they meet up with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), to whom Nate becomes romantically inclined. They’re not the only ones hunting this treasure: Billionaire Santiago Moncada (Antonio Bandaras) and mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) are both hot on its trail, too.
Well, kind of. The actual mysteries in the movie are so dumb and unsatisfying that there isn’t any tension to the various twists, turns and intrigues presented. Sully and Nate end up in Barcelona, where the treasure is supposedly buried under a cathedral. They team up with Chloe, and the three of them have to work together, separately, to uncover treasure underneath the aforementioned Papa Johns. Eventually, Nate and Chloe find the catacombs that are accessible through both a nightclub and a sewer grate in busy part of town. These are spoilers, but not really because to say I’m spoiling this would be like accusing me of telling you a Papa John’s pizza is going to taste like cardboard. There isn’t a pleasant surprise to be ruined, here.
Even the final battle, which takes place on flying pirate ships suspended by helicopters, is underwhelming despite the fun setup. Really, I wish I enjoyed it more. Holland, for what it’s worth, gives the role of Nate Drake his full commitment and differentiates the character from his iconic Peter Parker enough to think that, with better scripts, he can break free from any typecasting that associates him with acrobatic adventurers (good on him for boosting the box office of this one, though). Wahlberg is a different story. He had signed on to play Drake a few years ago, and maybe in 2020, he’d have carried this type of movie on his shoulders. As a supporting player, though, he’s constantly emanating a douchebag aura that actively harms his scenes with Holland. There’s no reason Drake would grow to love this guy. The audience sure doesn’t.
The best I can say about Uncharted is that I was never bored, but of course, that’s because I saw the film with Nick Rogers, and we were able to bullshit about it through most of the runtime. If I had tried to watch this at home, that might be a different story. Who knows? For undiscerning fans of either Holland or the IP, this may satisfy, but as a curious viewer at a Thursday-night showing hoping for a reasonably crafted adventure film … well, there are much better versions of this on every streaming service you have.