Sony’s ‘Uncharted’ Film Lacks PlayStation’s Fun (Movie Review)

Sony Pictures’ Uncharted looks to be Spider-Man star Tom Holland’s next box office hit this weekend. Based on the beloved PlayStation series by developer Naughty Dog and directed by Venom’s Ruben Fleischer, this mid-budgeted adventure flick leans more towards pleasing fans of Holland (and, to a lesser degree, co-star Mark Walhberg) than fans of the videogame. Arguably, this is a smart move for a new franchise looking to appeal to anyone, although, in the end, the quality of the thing is still the thing. In other words, is this modern day adventure debut any fun?

Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of the Uncharted series for three generations of consoles since its debut on PlayStation 3 in 2007. I am always crossing my fingers that the next movie based on popular interactive entertainment enthralls. I liked 2018’s Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander, regardless of its tepid domestic box office. 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog was fun enough. Netflix’s Arcane is brilliant. Still, here we are, yet again, as a big studio effort starring a terrific leading man can’t just beat this campaign by hitting X, circle, square, or triangle.

Fans of the series know Nathan Drake as a more dashing thirty-something rascal (and a middle-aged papa by the end of Uncharted 4) than anyone that would be confused for the boyish awkward charms of Holland. From the get-go, the story is more in line with the Batman Begins angle (this is very similar to 2013’s Tomb Raider game, which the 2018 movie was based on). The last decade offered many “Begins” tales, so it’s not surprising a feature film for Uncharted would do the same.

If the film is a hit, Holland can play Nathan Drake for decades like that other Tom has as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible (Holland isn’t quite a star on Cruise’s level, but he does do a lot of his own stunts). So, while I didn’t love the pitch, I understood why this was produced for the multiplex. Plus, I am a fan of Holland’s Peter Parker, which is just as well, as Holland’s Drake is essentially Spidey, without a mask. He even apologizes like the wall-crawler when taking down an assortment of armed henchmen.

Obviously, if this Drake is a young twenty-something who tends bar (like Cruise in Cocktail!), his mentor, Sully (Mark Wahlberg), must also be younger. Walhberg is maybe a tad too, well… Walhberg for the part, but as a two-hander, the co-leads deliver their quippy banter effectively. There’s a genuinely funny bit involving a house cat that made me chuckle.

Quips are pretty much the only good aspect of the script by Rafe Lee Judkins and Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. While whole subplots and set pieces are lifted from 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, none of the heart or solid character work is on display. On the positive side, it’s fun to see flying ships, an underground crypt, and the much-advertised plane sequence in IMAX. It’s not awe-inspiring like the work Naughty Dog pulled off on consoles, but I certainly wasn’t bored.

Plotwise Drake meets Sully, who offers him a job to recover a fortune amassed by the legendary Magellan that was lost over 500 years ago. Eventually, more people seeking the gold enter the fray, and, shockingly, no one can be trusted. Can Nathan remain a good guy while also seeking the aforementioned treasure and possibly finding clues to his lost brother’s whereabouts? What’s more important, $5 billion in fortune and glory or, as Dom would say, “family?”

In many ways, the story feels reverse-engineered from the game. The fourth entry in the series was (so far) the final adventure for Nate and Sully. The stakes were less about treasure-seeking and more about Nate learning to grow up (and getting re-acquainted with his retconned lost brother, Sam). In the film, this same quest is now meant to be the springboard for Drake’s love of adventure.

One of the more annoying aspects of this backward scripting is that the supporting cast, namely fan-favorite character Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) and Braddock (Tati Gabrielle playing basically a less-interesting Nadine Ross), are barely characters. Despite Gabrielle’s zeal for the part, Braddock is one of the most one-dimensional villains in a major studio film in ages. Antonio Banderas shows up briefly as yet another threat for Nate and Sully, but the veteran actor is stranded in a nothing role.

Speaking of threats, the series has sometimes been dinged because players shoot literally hundreds of enemies despite Drake’s affable good guy qualities. The film is a (mostly) bloodless adventure. Drake does wield a firearm eventually, but only for like five minutes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but hordes of armed assailants thwarted by broken vases and other non-ranged weapons feels toothless. Still, the film is designed to be wholesome enough, making it easier for younger viewers to latch onto.

Uncharted is by no means the “bad film” like the misfire that was last year’s Resident Evil: Welcome To Racoon City. For starters, the fans-only Easter eggs are less cynically used. There’s a cameo I won’t spoil, but I absolutely adored. The opening PlayStation logo a la Marvel Films is certainly cool. As a matinee adventure, Uncharted is totally fine. I can see audiences enjoying it well enough, though I doubt they’ll remember much the next day. It may not be game over, but will there be a continue? Time will tell for the friendly thief.

(Note: stay around for two mid-credits scenes.)

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