Uncharted is most assuredly a movie, that you can watch, in a cinema, right now. And it is, without a doubt, 1 hour and 56 minutes long. What is in question though, is why it feels inexplicably longer than that, and yet in terms of actual content; somehow shorter. Why does it manage the balancing act of feeling depressingly familiar and yet at the same time awkward, uncertain and new? Much like this review, it tries to incorporate a lot of the best bits of the games, makes attempts at saying something unique, and in the end is a lot of faffing around in the muck of bad ideas.
Can I press the “X” button and skip this next bit? No?
The Uncharted series of games was successful for many reasons, but mostly due to the incredibly simple premise at the heart of them: “What if you could play an action movie?” They are cinematic to a fault and every action beat that occurs in each of the games is usually referencing or paying homage to some classic action movie, or sequence or idea. Nathan Drake is the wisecracking amalgam of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and James Bond with elements of Tom Cruise, Steve McQueen and a lot of Nathan Fillion. Nolan North‘s portrayal is a fantastic melange of every swaggering braggadocious hero that ever crashed through a wall while firing twin pistols. He’s charming, likeable and aged somewhere in his mid to late 30s, which gives him a sense of world-weariness and vulnerability. He feels like he is “too old for this shit” and could potentially die any minute. You just know that at the end of the day after all the climbing and fighting he’s going to be dealing with pulled muscles, back strains and sore knees like anyone else. He’s relatable.
The game version of Nate explores exotic locales, solves relatively simple physics puzzles, meets interesting characters, charms women and shoots at a lot of people from behind waist-high walls. And the BIG action beats are quick-time events that allow for the player to feel invested in the drama, while still maintaining the cinematic illusion. They are carefully balanced and well-crafted games. But they are also carefully balanced and well-crafted movies. Unfortunately the film suffers badly from the loss of the interactive gaming elements, but also it suffers more from the removal (Temple of Doom-style) of it’s beating heart.
Tom Holland is the Cinematic Nathan Drake, and while he may be younger and more energetic than we’ve ever seen the character, he also feels nothing much like the hero we have known and loved. There’s some evidence of the swagger and bravado, but nowhere near enough. He’s a thief, but not in the grand adventuring model, he’s a petty crook. He’s athletic, and capable of amazing feats of endurance, but it all feels more like luck than any real skill. He’s also a complete failure with the female protagonists and somehow manages to be vaguely annoying to not only the bad guys of the film, but us as an audience. And then there’s his partner.
Sully. Mark Wahlberg. No.
The irascible and charming Victor Sullivan from the games (played by Richard McGonagle) in this film is de-aged a couple of decades and de-charisma’ed a few millennia, until we are left with the vacuous and entirely un-funky Marky Mark. (Is a Funky Bunch reference some low hanging fruit? Absolutely. Does it matter for this film? NO.) He is still an untrustworthy, potentially duplicitous character, but without the heft and gravitas of McGonagles delivery, he comes across as someone cosplaying as a Miami gangster. The stink of the Transformers films is still all over Wahlberg, and his utter failure to do anything like character acting is almost insulting.
The heist doesn’t so much as “caper” but more “meanders” around a bunch of locations that should be intriguing, but all feel oddly small and cramped. Logic problems creep in through the plot-cracks pretty quickly and while we spend an inordinately long time in a bunch of creepy catacombs, their placement within a busy city sewer system and a working nightclub beg a few too many questions to be ignored. We all love a good follow-the-clues treasure hunt, but this feels perfunctory and uninspired.
It all comes to a frustratingly silly end however in a final act that was clearly imagined on a boardroom table with a stack of Pirates of the Caribbean DVD’s nearby and a bunch of people who have lists called things like “What will sell to tweens” and “What CGI elements do we have in our stock library”. On Paper it may have sounded like a brilliant idea; two Spanish Galleons flying around the sky under helicopters while people fight on them like pirates, but sadly in this context it just feels silly.
I haven’t mentioned our female leads yet either, and for that omission both I and the film should be punished. Chloe Frazer in the games is played by Aussie Claudia Black, and she’s a memorable rogue who you love to be frustrated by. Here Sophia Ali has been reduced to a bit part who is all but forgotten in the third act. And her scenes with Nate in the bedroom somehow manage to be entirely G rated, but confusingly “MA” intentioned. It would be really confusing if you actually cared enough about either character to engage. The other female lead is a whole different but equally stinky kettle of fish…
Tati Gabrielle’s Braddock, along with her co-baddies, gets incredibly short shrift, being shunted from second stringer to head bad guy without the due care and attention required to make her arc work. She suffers indignity after indignity, being pushed into Antonio Banderas’ shadow (as he chews every piece of scenery he can get hold of)… Until suddenly he’s no longer important at all. You can’t help but feeling maybe some of that extended time spent with him and his father, might have been better served with her and…a script doctor.
Look it’s passably watchable, popcorn fun, I guess. But it’s not good Uncharted popcorn fun. It lacks the energy or bravado of the games, and constantly feels like a weak imitation. The Uncharted Games felt like big budget action movies that you were playing. This feels like an Uncharted film playing at being a big budget action movie.
Go play the games instead and find out what you’re missing.
I’m also going to leave this one right here as well, because sometimes the clever people from Screenrant making “Pitch Meeting” absolutely nail it.