The new Uncharted film from Columbia Pictures, directed by Ruben Fleischer (Venom), is proof that the longer highly anticipated adaptations of famous brands languish in development limbo, the more likely they are to emerge as distorted misfires that would have been best left in the draughts. Something isn’t the first time this has happened in a film. But, unlike so many previous adaptations in this genre, which are hampered by a lack of grasp of what people adore about the source material, you get the impression while watching Uncharted that everyone involved is somewhat “getting” what all the hoopla is about.
Uncharted combines aspects from previous Uncharted games to tell the narrative of a younger, less experienced Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) who is drawn into the jet-setting, tomb raiding lifestyle following a fortuitous encounter with conman/treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). Though Nathan, a lonely bartender with a troubled past and no close family in the present, knows better than to trust smooth-talking strangers who pick pockets better than he does, Sully is able to gain Nathan’s trust and recruit him for a big job by playing up his connections and similarities to Nathan’s long-lost brother, Sam.
Uncharted begins with one of the film’s very few large set pieces, which occurs near the conclusion, before moving back in time to focus on Nathan and Sully’s encounter. But Nathan’s journey to find hidden wealth begins in his childhood, when he (Tiernan Jones in flashbacks) and Sam (Rudy Pankow) were just two mischievous lads sneaking out of their orphanage to steal expensive artefacts from museums, as youngsters are prone to do. Uncharted tries to depict in its early moments how Nathan and Sam’s enthusiasm for treasure seeking and being torn apart as children lay the basis for the adult Nathan to become the type of person who is easily swayed by Sully’s charms. Uncharted, on the other hand, accidentally draws attention to its own indecisiveness about who its primary character is and what type of person they are.
Seeing Holland and Wahlberg try to play off each other in any of the film’s humorous parts is like looking into a clear crystallisation of how difficult Uncharted’s trip to the big screen was. Uncharted attempts to sell you on the concept of it being a buddy adventure film long before it truly enters action mode. However, the majority of Nathan and Sully’s banter falls flat owing to an unpleasant mix of poor chemistry and cliched dialogue that shines brighter than even the most boring video game sequences.
Wahlberg, who was a candidate for the role of Drake over a decade ago, doesn’t seem especially enthusiastic about or dismissive of the role of Sully – he merely hovers as a reminder of the Uncharted movie that might have been. By comparison, Holland’s Nathan is the more fascinating of the two characters, but Uncharted’s reliance on Holland’s boyish charm to carry it ends up damaging the picture in a way that becomes more evident as the film progresses and more individuals are introduced. If Nathan and Sully’s sibling bond wasn’t supposed to be Uncharted’s beating heart, and if the film had the foresight to at least attempt to make some of its supporting characters feel like individuals rather than walking, talking nods to the games, this wouldn’t be such a big deal.
There’s still plenty of Uncharted to get through by the time Nathan and Sully set off on their quest to find a buried treasure concealed by Magellan’s crew, but because the film can’t commit to a theme or a tone, it seems much longer than it is throughout.
Uncharted doesn’t want you to ponder about why Sully and other treasure hunters like Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) and Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) can only start receiving leads after Nathan arrives, despite the fact that they’ve all been looking for this treasure for a long time. The film also doesn’t want you to notice that none of Nathan’s problem solving or clue seeking appears to be very challenging or brilliant. Uncharted’s goal, on the other hand, is to transport you to beautiful, exotic locations where visitors are welcome to hack away at priceless artefacts.
The Uncharted franchise has its strengths and isn’t merely Tomb Raider for Men, but that’s the impression one could get from this picture for a multitude of reasons, including, but not limited to, its seeming aversion to developing female characters beyond being lusty prizes for its male stars. Uncharted’s biggest fault, on the other hand, is the certainty with which it promises further sequels – ones that the film’s finale neither deserves nor warrants.