_REVIEW.   it’s about _FILM.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
dir. _RUBEN FLEISCHER.   rating _12A.   release _11th FEB.

February 17, 2022

images © Sony Pictures.

If applying the law of diminishing returns to the vortex of ‘inspired by’, wheels-within-wheels intertextual madness of Ruben Fleischer’s long-gestated Uncharted, you can perhaps start chipping away at why it feels like such a tired slog through the overly familiar. The original series of Naughty Dog videogames of the same name (and 99% of the same plot line, albeit over the course of four instalments) were themselves bold, dynamic and, indeed, cinematic homages to both the Indiana Jones movies and also the globetrotting, tomb-raiding gaming hijinks of a certain Ms. Croft (Tomb Raider being a franchise similarly mishmashed and manhandled by the Hollywood adaptation machine.). Whispers of a movie adaptation manifested almost immediately, and as the adventures of Nathan Drake jaunted across multiple console generations and increasingly impressive sequels, there’s still probably a fair argument to be made that nestled somewhere within its archeological bones lie the promise or schematics of a decent big-screen adventure romp.

Sadly, Uncharted is not it. Even as a bloated origin story, it bandies between feeling formulaic and altogether unnecessary, despite the best efforts of current Hollywood go-to Tom Holland and the mostly-dependable Mark Wahlberg trying to rise above a flacid script.

Anyone remotely familiar with the games will know the key beats here, though even complete newcomers will see most of the twists and turns coming a mile off. Bartender-cum-kleptomaniac Nathan Drake (Holland) catches the attention of professional pilferer, Victor Sullivan (Wahlberg), who recruits him to embark on an expedition to find the greatest treasure never claimed. Surprise; it isn’t spices, knowledge or anything particular inventive (despite the film’s own acknowledgements), no, it’s gold. Yes, gold, and not even the kind with the decency to bring along with it any sort of curse or supernatural complication.

Cue a familiar foray of shadowy goons, ancient relics, underground vaults, globe-trotting that actually vocalises its Indy inspirations, and everything on the adventure romp 101 check-list right, down to yet another rising water (sinking thrills) trap room.

The problem is, not only have we seen it all before, but here Fleischer and co. commit the cardinal sin of never making Drake’s journey feel remotely dangerous or thrilling. Some of the crazily kinetic fight choreography may momentarily excite, with a jostle in an underground bar fleetingly fun, and Holland’s balletic and acrobatic background is on impressive display throughout, but we quickly crash down to Earth reminding ourselves this isn’t Peter Parker we’re watching. Just as wistfully as his Drake flies around in mid-air being hit by everything from sucker punches to an accelerating car with nary a bruise to show for his troubles, so too does too much of Uncharted feel weightless and inconsequential. The crosses and double-crosses have no real bite – or in the case of one particular turncoat make absolutely no sense whatsoever – and as the film desperately tiptoes around its 12A rating, it foregoes any chance to get any dirt – or blood – beneath its fingernails.

It would be easy to dismiss this as videogame logic mistranslating to the big screen, but even at their most fantastical, the Uncharted games never shied away from showing off the fire in their belly. Characters die, actions have consequences, and heck, Nathan and Chloe (admittedly well played here by Sophia Taylor Ali) jump into bed with each other practically immediately following her introduction in the second game. And whilst the film does shrewdly handle the fact that videogame Nate is a mass murderer on a scale that would make Harold Shipman wince, it’s aversion to fatalities only adds to the overall wanton bloodlessness. Again, outside of cashing those family-friendly dollars, there’s no real reason for this to be such a relatively sexless, diluted affair.

Sure, the filmmakers have some hindsight on their side in being able to thread a sub-plot regarding Drake’s older brother in from the start -whereas the games clumsily semi-retconned it all into their fourth entry – but it’s still integrated and executed with little in the way of invention or surprise.

Antonio Banderas gets a thankless role as a cookie-cutter villain about as intimidating as he is memorable, and Tati Gabrielle does the most as his woefully underwritten subordinate, but most of the positives that can be found here are to be lain at Holland and Wahlberg’s feet. They have just about enough chemistry to carry the plodding plot, and, despite early naysayers, it’s easy enough to see why this introduction to the characters is pitched so comparatively young. Holland himself is notably buffed up from even No Way Home standards (as the film goes to pains to showcase several times over), but again this just compounds the lack of any real frisson he’s offered with any of his co-stars. Keeping his squeaky clean gloss intact was clearly vetoed by last year’s Cherry, so again blame has to go to courting that 12A rating and consciously watering down the more consequential games into what regularly veers towards Saturday morning TV standards. By the time suspension of disbelief has been jettied off the back of a rotting ship being implausibly airlifted and swung around the Philippine coastline, it’s really only the central duo’s bond and on-screen dynamism that just about manages to hold the whole precariously dangling thing together.

“…it’s really only the central duo’s bond and on-screen dynamism that just about manages to hold the whole precariously dangling thing together.”

The first Uncharted game was an ambitious, exciting romp that laid the foundation of strong character work and fun adventure storytelling as a litmus for what was to come. Its follow-up, Among Thieves, was a virtual masterpiece, and remains to many the apex of the series. If this derivative, CliffsNotes Hollywood adaptation series follows suit – and a late sting and bizarre mid-credits sequence suggest at least intent to do so – then at least there’s hopefully an upward trajectory ahead. The biggest challenge Holland’s Nathan Drake faces right now, though, is whether or not this tepid, uninspired debut can garner enough traction and precious box office coins to get said sequel greenlit and, if it does, whether he and his ‘Sully’ can go on to unearth an even more nebulous, forgotten treasure of all; our interest.

Chemistry and fun from Holland and Wahlberg just about keep it afloat, but Uncharted waters down its source material and sputters along with a plodding, meandering case of Deja Vu-cares.


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