Let’s just get right into it: if you’re at all a fan of Naughty Dog’s famed video game series, Sony’s film adaptation of Uncharted is more than likely not going to deliver what you’re looking for. Everyone worried that Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg were miscast as Nathan Drake and Sully will, unsurprisingly, be proved correct. If you’re at least expecting a promising start to how Holland and Wahlberg could fully evolve into the leads we all know and love later down the line, that’s not really here either. Still, with all of this in mind, Uncharted is somehow not the worst video game adaptation Hollywood has lazily churned out. Of course, that’s not a very high bar to begin with.
You’re probably thinking how this could not be one of the worst video game films with everything just said, but this take on Uncharted does manage to nail certain key aspects from the games. Having been in development limbo for now over a decade, going through numerous writers and directors including David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Shawn Levy (Free Guy), Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), and Travis Knight (Bumblebee), you would hope that the spirit of the source material would be achieved at the bare minimum. Who would have thought that it would all come down to Zombieland filmmaker Ruben Fleischer in the end? And surprisingly, he does a serviceable job in maintaining a high-adrenaline, swashbuckling adventure – one that kind of feels similar to what the games had to offer!
The film borrows the most from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, with the bond between Nathan and his long-lost brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) being front and center. After working as a bartender and petty part-time thief, Nathan Drake is contacted by Victor Sullivan to help him complete the quest that Sam started. After the two brothers were separated as young orphans, Sam went on to unravel the mystery behind the fabled hidden gold of Ferdinand Magellan – the Portuguese explorer who mastered the first expedition around the world – that is until he went missing. Nathan reluctantly takes up Sully’s offer, hoping to find an answer to his brother’s absence for all these years. Along the way, our heroes team up with fellow explorer Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), race against rival thieves (lead by Tati Gabrielle), and learn the in and outs of treasure hunting the hard way, as Nathan gets thrown out of a cargo plane somewhere in between.
Ruben Fleischer’s work here is a notable step up from his usual repertoire. He commits to the far-out nature of the franchise to the best he can. This leads to some imaginative set pieces, besides the plane sequence stripped directly from Drake’s Deception, that do fit within the Uncharted brand. Although the action may not be as insane as in the games, a few memorable moments make for a decent first try. These efforts in keeping the frolicking adventure aspect alive are, however, not enough when you have miscast leads and a subpar script. To pin the total blame on just one area would be unfair. From the main casting to its mix mash of original ideas and plot threads taken directly from the games, any of these notable changes could have still worked in theory, yet it’s clear that they don’t because Uncharted is evidently tailored as a safe crowd-pleaser by the studio, maximized for a guaranteed box office (to make all the years in production worth it) even if that risks betraying the games.
Get a filmmaker behind the camera who won’t complain, put big-name actors on screen and play to their fanbases, and borrow just enough so that you can still technically call the movie Uncharted… you can see how Sony was aiming for the lowest common denominator here. Nonetheless, as he’s proven time and time before with films like Chaos Walking and Cherry, Tom Holland sure can make the most out of an unfortunate situation. He’s charmingly naive, and definitely shows all the brains to be Nathan Drake. Now, what the script doesn’t afford him is any of Nate’s rougher qualities, mainly how he can be a brash yet likable asshole. You might excuse Holland not being as funny or confident as classic Nathan since this is an origin story, though even when Uncharted does the tired bit where it promises the audience “don’t worry, you’ll get a real Uncharted film in the sequel” during a mid-credits scene, Holland still doesn’t really feel like the Nathan Drake anyone who’s played the games would recognize. He finds his footing throughout the course of the film, but as this cleaner, vanilla version of the character.
The worst offender here in terms of studio tailoring is forced humor. Middle-of-the-ground quips are plenty to be found and are quite uncanny, things like Holland’s Drake making fun of Wahlberg’s Sully for having Tinder in the middle of an ancient dungeon feel painfully out of place. This push and pull between Uncharted striving for a real sense of escapism and being held back by unnecessary humor is best summarized in the second act, when after we see our leads go through a series of genuinely exciting puzzles in their grand treasure hunt, a fight scene with Marky Mark ensues in a literal Papa John’s Pizza. It’s one of many head-scratching decisions with Wahlburg’s Sully specifically, though there is some kind of bright side. Much like the core duo in Venom, Ruben Fleischer finds a way to make the odd pairing of Holland and Wahlberg unironically hilarious to watch. Wahlberg isn’t really trying to act like anyone else but himself while Holland is doing the exact opposite, so seeing the two bounce off each other is actually kind of entertaining in a total out-of-context way!
Suffice to say that Uncharted works a lot better when you forget that it’s actually supposed to be an Uncharted movie, one that would have the signature relationships and character dynamics that are partly responsible for one of the most iconic video game franchises of our generation. Hollywood once again takes the predictable route in trying to make something, that’s already been proved successful mind you, even more commercially accessible for film by stripping away what made it unique as a game in the first place. It’s the same reason why the first live-action Pokémon movie wasn’t even about training pokémon and has Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu as his usual self for 2 hours. In doing this with Uncharted, a series that’s already been seen as an Indiana Jones knock-off if not for Nate and Sully, Sony leaves its film adaptation without much of an identity.
The fact that its main adventure is still reminiscent of the games, plus whatever Holland and Wahlberg have going on, puts Uncharted above other video game films believe it or not. It’s still watchable and isn’t honestly the worst way to pass a few hours of your day. The inevitable sequel could work better, its first biggest task would be to let Tom Holland actually act more like the matured Nathan Drake, and probably convince Mark Wahlberg to try something new. In the meantime, if you want a truly cinematic globetrotting adventure through and through, you’re better off just playing any of the games.