The Pitch: For non-gamers, Uncharted is a remarkably straightforward project: Hot treasure hunters go on an action-packed adventure to track down a centuries-old treasure? Sure, checks out. Maybe these particular treasure hunters aren’t as nobly intentioned as, say, one Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr., but that doesn’t mean 25-year-old bartender/history buff/aspiring thief Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) isn’t just as dedicated to tracking down some long lost gold.
We first meet Nathan as a 10-year-old living with his older brother Sam in an orphanage, though Sam makes his escape from the place after a run-in with the law, leaving his brother with a family artifact (an engraved ring), followed by, in the ensuing years, a trail of vague postcards from exotic locals. Now (ostensibly) an adult, Nate’s mixing drinks for trust fund girls at fancy bars and swiping their jewelry while they’re not looking — which is where Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) finds him, and offers him a job assisting with a heist/treasure hunt.
Having known Sam, Sully feels sure that Nathan’s the right choice to help him track down the gold theoretically recovered by the men sailing with Magellan on his legendary attempt to circumnavigate the globe. And while lacking in experience when it comes to treasure-hunting, Nate does offer a deep knowledge of history and some remarkable upper body strength (the film literally includes a montage of Nate studying building schematics and doing push-ups and pull-ups, lest you question his later feats of climbing and hanging off buildings and whatnot).
Of course, Sully and Nate aren’t the only ones after this treasure — not only does Sully enlist the help of another treasure hunter named Chloe (Sophia Ali) in the fight, there’s also the wealthy and evil Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas, hopefully paid very well for his appearance here), who’s hired the ruthless Jo (Tati Gabrielle, wearing a truly breathtaking series of outfits) to track down the treasure as well.
Thus, the scheming and double-crossing begins, with literally no character trusting anyone else for longer than two minutes (and, once they do, usually regretting it). It’s almost impossible to keep track of the number of interpersonal betrayals that occur; in fairness, these are people who are literally criminals. It’s perhaps the most realistic touch of the film.
A Big Bright Shining Star: While Drake is the central protagonist of the Uncharted games, the big shift that Uncharted the film makes is to essentially transform the concept into a two-hander between Holland and Wahlberg (the two even share a card in the credits). Fortunately, there’s a solid chemistry between the two actors (the sort of enemies-to-friends dynamic that fanfic authors will most certainly enjoy riffing on), even if neither of them are really playing much in the way of actual characters.
Instead, Holland and Wahlberg are both locked pretty hard into their movie star personas, with Holland not really doing much to banish any thoughts of Peter Parker, while Wahlberg does what Wahlberg’s been doing so well ever since his early 2000s turn towards blockbusters. There’s honestly a sort of comfort to be found in that; sometimes an actor acts, and then sometimes an actor plays a dude falling out of a plane while globetrotting after pirate gold. Sometimes, the latter is all you’re really looking to see.
Speaking of the Action… What Uncharted primarily has going for it are a few truly bonkers set pieces with just enough over-the-top flair to feel fresh to the viewer — even if you’ve played the games. Though that sequence you might have seen in the trailers, featuring Tom Holland falling out of a cargo plane mid-air and trying to scramble back on board with some help from some crates? It’s got a pretty clear inspiration point.
That’s fine! Good, even. When the idea of video game adaptations first became an intriguing notion to Hollywood in the 1990s, the challenge many of them faced was that the medium at that point was extremely limited in terms of technology as well as storytelling. (Hard to do too much with a premise like “Italian brothers/plumbers save the princess from an evil dino-man,” after all.)
But today, games don’t just have a cinematic look and feel, they’re also capable of delivering a higher level of narrative, just as worthy of adaptation as any novel. Uncharted, both the games and the ensuing film, proves that. For, while there are a few narrative choices that play as predictably as you might imagine (no one whoever watched an episode of Alias will be shocked by the film’s opening 10 minutes), there are at least one or two solid twists that go beyond expectations.
The Verdict: This might be superficial as observations go, but sometimes you can get a good or bad feeling about a movie just by looking at the runtime: In this case, Uncharted clocks in at just a hair under two hours — which is a bit short in comparison to other movies of its kind.
But while this means the film does sacrifice the sort of character development that made other action tentpoles like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl such a memorable journey for viewers, it also means that director Ruben Fleischer‘s film is tight as a drum, moving quickly from one set piece to the next without the momentum flagging once.
That said, another film that came in at about the exact same length is Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film which even today still pops with memorable characters and breath-taking action. Unfortunately, literally name-dropping Indiana Jones while also paying “homage” to that franchise with Raiders-style airplane map animation doesn’t deliver the same level of magic. But while Uncharted will never be a classic on par with Spielberg’s original swashbuckling adventure, it does no dishonor to that tradition, and even manages to deliver a few unique thrills.
Where to Watch: Uncharted will parkour its way into theaters on Friday, February 18th.