When Naughty Dog began work on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the first video game in the Uncharted franchise, their goal was to replicate the romantic adventure films of old. In a 2007 interview with Gamesradar, Amy Hennig (co-creative director of the first entry) said as much: “We wanted to embrace and exploit all the tried-and-true conventions of the action/adventure genre. So we studied and deconstructed all the source material- adventure pulps; old movie serials; comics; classic adventure movies; contemporary historical-mystery thrillers…” While that process works wonders for an interactive video game, when the same formula is used to adapt that property into a motion picture like Ruben Fleischer’s Uncharted does, you end up with a copy of a copy.
The big screen treatment of the best-selling Playstation franchise tries to distance themselves from the video games by crafting a wholly new origin story for its protagonist. Nathan Drake (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: No Way Home), a descendant of the famous explorer Sir Francis Drake, is introduced as a scrappy bartender who’s just trying to make ends meet by hustling rich women out of their prized jewelry. However, when an old-school treasure hunter by the name of Victor “Sully Sullivan (Mark Whalberg, Daddy’s Home) seeks him out to locate the lost treasure of Ferdinand Magellan, Drake will embark on a globe-trotting adventure to find the fortune and possibly discover what happened to his missing brother, Sam.
As fans of the franchise may surmise from the above description, Uncharted tries to cherry-pick a few elements from the original games (like the mystery behind Sam and the cargo plane set piece) and start from scratch with everything else. This results in a film that feels woefully generic and lacking in any of the charm that the video games possess in spades.
The major factor that contributes to this dearth of charm in Fleischer’s latest film lies with its leading man, Tom Holland. Despite how he is depicted in Uncharted‘s marketing materials, the Spider-Man actor does pull off the appearance of a young Nathan Drake, especially once he dons the iconic form-fitting baseball tee. The physicality of the character is also properly represented, as Holland (or rather his stunt double) climbs and vaults over objects just like his video game counterpart. Unfortunately, any possible praise for the role is erased the minute Holland begins to speak. His dialect abruptly shifts between a lightly baritone Boston accent and his trademark high-pitched locution, creating a tonal imbalance in his character. Additionally, despite countless scenes exposing his chiseled muscles, Holland lacks any of the smarmy sexual charisma that is synonymous with Nathan Drake.
Holland isn’t the only actor to blame for Uncharted‘s misfortune though. Mark Wahlberg (who was originally set to play Nathan Drake in 2010 with director David O’Russell at the helm) performs the character of Sully with a kind of indifference that is typically only reserved for Bruce Willis direct-to-DVD movies. The only actor who shows any kind of commitment to their role is Antonio Banderas, who attempts to bring a ruthless and vindictive persona to corrupt businessman, Santiago Moncada. However, Moncada is so poorly underdeveloped as an antagonist that Banderas’ efforts are regretfully negated.
While there are brief moments of treasure hunting fun in the vein of the National Treasure movies, the trite narrative and emotionless performances render Uncharted dead on arrival. I mean, the fact that a key action sequence takes place in a Papa John’s in the middle of Barcelona tells you all you need to know about this action-adventure imposter.
The Silver Lining
While much of Uncharted lack enthusiasm, the flying ships set piece is the sole exception. The use of ropes and grappling hooks to traverse between the two vessels bring a kinetic movement and energy to the third act. Even though there is an overly extended period of slow-motion, this set piece is the only aspect of Uncharted to actually share the same inherent DNA as the video game franchise.
Uncharted is now playing in theaters nationwide.