It's no secret that video games have been done dirty on the big-screen over the years. Of them all (and I mean ALL), only "Sonic the Hedgehog" was able to make the jump in a way that not only honored the source material and became a fun cinematic experience. In a recent RottenTomatoes article, of 48 video game movies on the site, only FOUR of them had a "Fresh" rating (and three of those are quite questionable if you ask me).
"Uncharted" is the latest video game to take the plunge, and on the surface it seems to have a lot going for it. First, it's one of the highest-selling video games of all-time, having shipped more than 41 million units. It has a wealth of characters and stories to draw from, with four "main" games and a whole slate of spin-offs, books and comics. Since the game itself was an innovation in the way of cinematic story-telling, many have long thought that it was one of the most adaptable video games ever. Many games popularized the cinematic "cut scene" in-between side-scrolling video game action, but "Uncharted" WAS basically a playable extended cut-scene, where the action and the gameplay seamlessly melted into each other making for a unique and thrilling gaming experience.
Full-Disclosure: Although I was a HUGE gamer in my youth, I only have a passing knowledge of the game "Uncharted" (I've played one of them just once, with my nephew, for hours and hours...it was incredibly fun!). Many faithful fans of the game franchise have cried foul at some of the casting and story decisions in the "Uncharted" movie, but for me, it was an enjoyably high-seas adventure reminiscent of films like "Indiana Jones" or "National Treasure," but not quite as fun as either of those.
The star of the franchise and games is Nathan Drake (Tom Holland), who is recruited by a seasoned treasure hunter, Victor "Sully" Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to find the lost buried treasure of Magellan. As these movies go, they must seek out ancient artifacts and follow the breadcrumbs, and get there before the bad guys do. One such baddie is Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a ruthless businessman who believes the Magellan treasure is his birthright. He recruits one of Sully's arch-nemeses, Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), to lead his thugs on a quest for the gold. Fan-favorite character Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) also is in the mix.
"Uncharted" had a surprising amount of really cool, completely over-the-top action sequences that I found fitting and fully entertaining. The film begins with Drake hanging on some cargo that happens to be hanging out of a plane high above the open water...he then manages to fight his way back on the plane only to be ran over by a car (for real). Later, he battles the bad guys on an actual pirate ship that is once again high in the sky, being airlifted by a helicopter.
These are exactly the sort of scenes that people would expect from a film like this, and there are more than a few puzzles to decipher along the way to boot (another staple of the game franchise). The film keeps up a good pace and flies by...which can't be said about many films in the genre.
Where the movie almost falls apart is in its dialogue and the corny interactions between characters. Drake and Sully have a big brother/little brother banter that deliver a few funny exchanges, but if I was re-writing the script I would have punched up much of this. Wahlberg specifically, who we know from movies like "The Other Guys" can be hilarious when given the right material, sort of flounders in-between a guy we're not sure whether to take seriously or laugh along with. Holland is a serviceable Nathan Drake, showing more poise and confidence than his Peter Parker character, but not really able to fill the shoes of a protagonist in this big a film. The bad guys too are quite generic, as are many of the other side characters.
The lack of good banter is a real let-down, since that's one of the signatures of the game. But it also makes the stakes feel way lower than they should, and seems to water down the entirety of the adventure.
Even still, "Uncharted" can fill a niche right now, where there aren't too many good franchises going in this particular treasure-hunting-adventure genre. They have the star power, the wealth of stories and characters from the games to pull from, and with any luck, the box office to green-light a sequel. It's not something that I'm dying for, but "Uncharted" was good enough for me to be interested in another go-around.
Genre: Action, Adventure.
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland: Double Tap," "Venom," "Gangster Squad," "Zombieland").
"Uncharted" is in theaters on Friday, February 18th, 2022.
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