2022 | rated PG-13 | starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali | directed by Ruben Fleischer | 1 hr 56 mins |
2 out of 5 stars
As video games got more graphically complicated, they also got more complicated in story, in being able to let us relate to the characters and there adventures. Games like The Last of Us and Bioshock pushed experiences that rivaled movies in their story depth and immersion. Sony’s 4-game Uncharted series was one of those touchstone games. Yes, it was a ton of fun, a globe-trotting platformer, shooter and puzzler, but it also eschewed the silent hero trope with it’s lead, Nathan Drake. Part Indian Jones, part Han Solo, the quippy, sarcastic but real Drake was a real character. Heck, he even sold out like real actors and starred in his own Subway commercial. Where other games-to-movies had no character to work with (ie. Sonic the Hedgehog), for Uncharted the work was already done. Also unlike those game, Uncharted has a story, making a leap to the storytelling medium of movies seem, well, redundant.
Watching Sony’s Uncharted movie after playing Uncharted is like fumbling around with Apple Sheets after using Excel. Things are changed, not for the sake of improvement, just for the sake of being different. So the movie opens with a big bombastic CGI mid-air sequence out of Uncharted 3 instead of the more cinematic slow-burn opening of Uncharted 2. This is a series that begs to be an earthier, more tactile call back to Speilbergian action movies of the 80s, an updated Indiana Jones. Director Ruben Fleisher (Zombieland, and then junk) instead is hired to do what he does and turns the film into a cartoon. The action scenes, from the mid-air chase to a mid-air pirate ship fight, are so silly they stand out.
The problem here is what the movie does to Nathan Drake. The character is stripped of his cynicism and aged down to fit onto the screen persona of a miscast Tom Holland. I actually hated it. This is the equivalent of what anti-woke Youtubers complain about when they lambast a movie for race-swapping or gender-swapping a character and pulling out their complexity. Here Nathan Drake has been age-swapped and stripped of his personality and the film is turned into a Tom Holland vehicle playing to his “I’ had to punch you, but I’m really sorry” Marvel appeal. The same goes for Drake’s silver-haird partner Sully, aged down to fit the screen persona of the equally miscast Mark Wahlberg.
I get what they’re doing here. Drake was cast with a younger actor for the purpose of building a franchise for the long haul, but the rest of the film isn’t built like the first step in a franchise. When Holland finally dawns Drake’s gun holster and the Uncharted theme kicks on he isn’t Becoming Nathan Drake because the movie hasn’t set up the importance of who he will become. A narrator or flash forward might have done that. The film doesn’t establish a team or a lived-in headquarters or anything that would spin out into a solid franchise. Uncharted is just an action movie.
The plot involves Drake, a young bartender, being recruited by Sully for a heist job to get a cross, that is one of two keys to get into Magellan’s hidden lost treasure. With a consortium of bad guys in hot pursuit and a shifty ally in Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), one of the two predominate female characters of the series. But Uncharted exists in 2022, where all movies are sanitized free of any romantic or sexual tension among their action movie leads. If Raiders of the Lost Ark were made today Indy and Marion would never share a kiss or have a romantic history. They would just coldly fight for treasure.
So, Uncharted is a hollow, soul-less, studio-assembled action movie. It’s not witty, it’s not very fun and it doesn’t look very good for all of it’s swirling camera. But Uncharted is more a failure of what could have been than what it is. A creative team that cared for this franchise and understood it’s homage-roots would want to use it to bring back the tactile, set-built, 80s action movie and jump-start it for a new generation who don’t want to see everything as a cartoon. That’s the best way it could have distinguished itself from the game series. It’s just enough to make you want to go back and play Uncharted 4.