Review: UNCHARTED Starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali
When it comes to films based on video game franchises, it’s pretty safe to say the results have been hit or miss.
And miss. And more misses. And lots o’ misses.
Whether it’s the Super Mario Bros. movie, the mixed bag of the Mortal Kombat franchise, DOOM, and basically anything Uwe Boll has touched, overall critical reception of game movies has been somewhat less than stellar. Other than the Resident Evil series (which strayed pretty far from the lore of the games), most of these films performed so poorly they didn’t get much consideration for sequels or franchises. We won’t even talk about Battleship.
On the other hand, two of the better-received films based on video games in recent memory weren’t actually based on real video games. Wreck-It Ralph (okay, recent memory may be stretching it, but relative to, say, the Chicxulub impact, it’s virtually yesterday) was a pretty big hit when it was released, and last year’s Free Guy, based on a fictitious MMORPG, ended up being much better than I’d anticipated and was a relative hit. Toss in the fact that the Witcher Netflix series has been a smash hit, and so I held out at least some hope that Uncharted may finally prove that a video game franchise could prove viable entertainment at the theater.
It should be noted that, despite being an avid gamer, I’ve actually never played the Uncharted franchise, as up until recently, I haven’t owned a PS5. I do plan on eventually playing it, though. For the purposes of this review, though, I am vaguely familiar with the concept of the franchise, but I am not too familiar with the plot.
It’s hard to imagine a hotter name out there than Tom Holland, fresh off the resounding success of Spider-Man: No Way Home. And it’s pretty easy to see why, at least on paper, he was chosen to portray the lead, Nathan Drake: he’s a handsome young talent who’s proven capable of being a comedic lead in an action film. Set in the present day, Drake is a flair bartender with a love of history and pickpocketing customers when he’s approached by Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) with an offer to help find Nathan’s long-lost brother, Sam, in exchange for his assistance in locating the long-lost treasure of Ferdinand Magellan, the first person to circumnavigate the globe (except not really).
Unfortunately, the film gets off to a pretty slow start. The first 30 minutes or so tend to drag on before the film essentially turns into Indiana Jones meets National Treasure: trotting around the globe to find archeological treasures while having to figure out ancient clues and mechanisms that miraculously still work after sitting stagnant for hundreds of years. Seriously, though. My car won’t work if I let it sit for a couple months, yet the press of a button will activate a ridiculously complex locking mechanism that opens without hesitation. It goes without saying, but to enjoy this film requires nearly a complete shutdown of any sense of rational thinking. I’m certainly willing to do that to an extent, but Uncharted really pushes it.
Along the way, Drake and Sully encounter the mysterious Chloe Frazer (Sophie Ali), a fellow treasure hunter who has a mixed history with Sully. Sully warns him against trusting her, while she does the same about Sully. Apparently nobody in this universe is trustworthy, and yet they trust each other while they race against Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), yet another treasure hunter (at least the movie flat out shows him to be a bad person) and his mercenary, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who also has a mysterious past with Sully.
First, the things Uncharted does right. They certainly recruited some solid talent for the cast; besides Holland, Wahlberg and Banderas have both had long careers as established leading men. Ali and Gabrielle don’t have quite the resumes, but they’re quite capable and do as well with the script as anyone could do. Visually, Uncharted looks terrific. And Holland more than holds his own in the extended action sequences. Having gotten into shape to portray Peter Parker, the fight and chase sequences that require a bit of parkour are smooth and fun.
Unfortunately, most of the strengths of the film tend to be window dressing covering up a thin story that, as mentioned earlier, requires some tremendous leaps of logic. The laws of physics appear to be just a suggestion in this world; in one sequence, Drake jumps between cargo boxes that are attached to the back of a moving plane. Sure, it looks cool, but it’s almost laughable at the same time. Betrayal is one of the main themes, as all of the main characters trick or betray one another at some point in time in the movie, enough times to essentially become memes. And the climax of the film appears to be ripped straight from the film Sahara; if you’ve seen it (and judging by the box office numbers, you didn’t), that doesn’t bode well.
While it does have its moments, ultimately, it’s got too many flaws for the impressive cast to overcome. There are two mid-credit scenes that suggest an inevitable sequel, but we’ll see how it does at the box office first. I’m going to be curious what fans of the game franchise think of the film; early reactions to the trailers weren’t exactly favorable among my friends. For a newbie to the lore, though, it’s hard to recommend.