Uncharted is a fun, kinetic, world-hopping adventure that will play better for newcomers than fans of the franchise. The movie plays out as other video game-to-film adaptations before it in that the director pays homage to the source material through easter eggs and fan service, and the result is a run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster.
Young bartender and pickpocket Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is recruited by experienced treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to find a $5 billion gold fortune lost 500 years ago. What begins as a routine heist turns into a deadly race for the treasure between Drake and Sully and the wealthy Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who claims the fortune is his birthright. If Drake is successful in helping Sully reach the gold before Moncada, he may be reunited with his long-lost brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow).
Film adaptations of video games have a rocky history. Despite the growing complexity of stories and characters featured in video games, and the growing demographic of gamers, Hollywood has yet to truly capitalize on this trend. One reason for this is that video game movies tend to cost a pretty penny. When production and advertising costs are added up, the movie needs to make a lot of money for the studio to make a return on their investment. This has been an especially difficult achievement in recent years, with films such as Assassin’s Creed (2016) and Tomb Raider (2018) flopping hard in theaters or barely making back their budget. Even moderately successful movies like Detective Pikachu (2019) and Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) look to have performed better on paper than they did. The critical reaction to video game movies is just as bad if not worse than their box office performance. In a best-case scenario, the film barely scrapes by as fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Sony Pictures looks to beat the odds with their adaptation of the video game franchise Uncharted, an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure series.
I hold close to my heart Nathan Drake and the Uncharted video games. I’ve played all four games on the PlayStation, and they were vital pieces to my adolescence. Long story short, I have a personal connection to the source material. As a fan of Uncharted, I cannot say the film is what I would have imagined from a movie adaptation. This is mostly a fault in the casting. Tom Holland is one of the most charismatic stars of our generation…but he’s not Nathan Drake. Holland appears to be playing Spiderman without the suit and powers more than he does the wisecracking treasure hunter. He may wear Drake’s clothes and mutter his signature line “oh crap” more than a few times, but the film places more attention on Holland’s sculpted abs and muscular arms than it does on aspects of his character true to the game (however, I will say Tom Holland in a wet t-shirt makes for a great selling point). The problem of the casting does not only stem with Holland’s portrayal of Drake but extends to Wahlberg as Sully and even Sophia Ali as Chloe Frazer. Each actor is fine in their respective roles, but as someone who played the games several times over, I could never fully buy that they were their characters. I understand the film is set before the events of the first game, Drake’s Fortune, and so Drake and company are meant to look younger here than how we know them from the games; I’m skeptical that in any future installments my opinion of the casting choices will change.
Casting issues aside (which won’t be a problem if you are unfamiliar with the games), the film itself is very entertaining. The pacing is quick and never lets up, and the movie starts with action from the get-go. Our protagonists are constantly on the move, solving mysteries and uncovering clues all while trying to deceive one another. It seems that director Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Zombieland) has mastered the art of making audience-friendly hits that are as mindless as they are plot-driven.
Having surpassed estimates and already brought well over $100 million in the bank in the movie’s opening weekend, Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Tim Rothman has dubbed Uncharted a “new hit movie franchise”. A sequel is imminent, and if you stick around for a post-credit scene you may get a hint as to where Drake will be going next. After Uncharted, I am cautiously optimistic about the direction Sony takes the series. While the movie isn’t the cinematic adaptation I always dreamed of, I understand things could’ve been a whole lot worse.