Uncharted review

Uncharted movie poster

Once upon a time, Uncharted was released for the Playstation 3. The game turned into a franchise, and now there’s a movie.

Plot

Uncharted follows the adventures of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who plays fast and loose with the law. Nathan is the bad boy modern version of Indiana Jones. Like Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake hunts for treasure, but unlike Indy, Nathan does not pretend to be an archaeologist. This makes it slightly less painful when Nathan destroys yet another archaeological marvel, like an ancient ship, a hidden temple, or lost city. Slightly.

The Uncharted movie starts with Tom Holland as a young boy. He and his older brother Sam are breaking into a mansion, searching for a medieval map belonging to Magellan. They’re caught, and taken back to the orphanage they live. The police and the nun in charge decide to give Nathan another chance, but move to expel and arrest Sam. Sam, however, flees and vanishes.

Fast forward fifteen years. All Nathan has left of Sam is a series of postcards. Nathan works as a bartender and uses his job as cover to pickpocket rich customers. One night a man comes into the bar, introduces himself as Sully, and confronts him with this. Nathan ignores him, but Sully pickpockets Nathan, luring him to his apartment, and then asks him to help find a lost treasure. Sully knows Sam and he can bring Nathan back into contact with him.

Sully drags Nathan into a life-or-death race to find a lost treasure. All is not what it seems, and Nathan learns Sully has been less than honest with him from the start.

Movie adaptions

Adapting a video game to a movie often goes very badly. More often than not, the movies fall flat. Anybody remember the movie Doom? Or Wing Commander? Or Streetfighter? The list of cringeworthy adaptions is very very long. In fact, I don’t know any really good movies based on a game. ‘Entertaining’ is apparently the best one can hope for. The Resident Evil movies, for example, are entertaining, and I felt the same about Prince of Persia. Of course, tastes differ, so if you love a game adaption, good for you.

Uncharted falls into the ‘entertaining’ category. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not going to go down in history as a masterpiece. My wife and I had fun watching it, but I doubt I’ll watch it again (contrary to Dune, for example, which I already saw twice and will want to see again).

Adapting video games is hard because the mediums are deceptively different from each other. When you play the Uncharted games it almost feels like a movie, but the story beats and pacing are geared towards an interactive experience with various set pieces. Translating those one-to-one would be boring, I think, because of pacing, and the action sequences and non-action sequences wouldn’t mesh well on the screen. And that’s overlooking the movie would be many hours long.

Uncharted the movie took parts of the plot from the fourth game (A Thief’s End) but changed it to feature an origin story and elements from the first and second games. A Thief’s End is the last in a series, meaning there’s a lot of backstory from earlier games. You can’t put that in a movie easily. And the biggest weakness in Thief’s End is that it’s the first game to mention Sam. The plot of the movie, however, introduces Sam, then focuses on Nathan and Sully’s relationship, which does the movie good. If there is a second movie, I hope it will follow the rest of the Thief’s End plot, because it’s the strongest game, story-wise, in my opinion.

The characters

Tom Holland is of course best known for playing Spider-man in the Marvel universe. He’s clearly branching out. I don’t know if he’s the best fit for Nathan Drake in Uncharted. In the games, Nathan is in his early thirties, but Tom Holland is in his early twenties. It fits narratively, as the story is a sort of prequel to the games, and Sully is younger too, but still… The dynamic is very different from the games, because in the games Nathan is clearly in charge and not afraid to fight bad guys with fists or guns, but in the movie he’s more an out-of-his-depth young adult. This made the climax where he fights off a bunch of mercenaries… incongruous.

Mark Wahlberg plays Sully. I can’t think of Mark Wahlberg in video game adaptions without thinking of Max Payne. Max Payne is very low on my list of successful video game adaptions. Luckily, here he does alright. I like Mark Wahlberg better in comedies, like Ted and The Other Guys. That said, he plays Sully pretty well, putting aside that Sully in the game is a white-haired, cigar-smoking man with a mustache, and Mark Wahlberg is non of these things in the movie. — though the post-credits scene plays with the very issue.

Then there’s Chloe, played by Sophia Taylor Ali. Her character is interesting, as was she in the games. She’s never really Nathan’s enemy or his friend, which contrasts Sully nicely. Sully and Chloe are both on the friend-enemy scale, and the movie plays with their relative places on that scale.

The bad guys of the movie are Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) and Santiago Moncada (Antionio Banderas). The interplay between the two is interesting, but I do feel the movie didn’t have the running time to truly bring their stories to life. Which is a shame. It might have been better to smear their arcs out over two movies, or remove one, but that’s just my opinion.

Summary

Uncharted is a fun action movie, but doesn’t stand out, in my mind. The build-up is good, but the climactic fight at the end, while original and spectacular, lacked emotional impact.

So, Uncharted is a fun movie, but sits closer to National Treasure than it does to Indiana Jones, which doesn’t really suit it. Still, there are many worse movies to watch.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy author/blogger from the Netherlands