Uncharted (2022) Review

AMONG THIEVES (AND EXPECTATIONS)


 

Sic Parvis Magna! Translated it means “Greatness, from small beginnings”, a motto of Sir Francis Drake, the famous navigator and sailor, that means anyone can become great no matter where they started out. Such a powerful statement is shared in the video game series titled Uncharted, which first debuted back in 2007 (Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune) exclusively on the PlayStation console platform. Created by Amy Henning and developed by the video game company Naughty Dog, the main series of games follows one Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter and adventure explorer, who travels across the world to uncover various historical mysteries and finding enemies around every corner. Combining large scale adventure with puzzle solving, action shooting, and platforming, the main series of Uncharted consist of four core releases, with several spin-off games to expanded upon video game’s treasure hunting world. Styled and fashioned in similar way to Indiana Jones films and a spiritual kin to the Tomb Raider video game franchise, the Uncharted series has received universally acclaimed and found commercial success with its releases, with many players (and publications) praising the games for raising the standards of single-player video games in several crucial areas, including storytelling, character design / animation, voice acting, realistic graphics, technical innovation, musical score, and gameplay mechanics. Many critics and fans have often been likened to be familiar in tone and nuances to a Hollywood-produced action-adventure films. Now, after receiving critical and commercial success with its video game platform, the jump to the silver screen has arrived, with Sony Pictures (under a PlayStation production) and director Ruben Fleischer, gearing up for a film adaptation of the popular video game series, with the film titled Uncharted. Does this latest theatrical production from Hollywood rise to the challenge of breaking the infamous “video game film adaptation” curse or is it squander its chances for a failed adventure-esque narrative that’s a far cry from what the essences of the games are known for?

THE STORY


Years ago, Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) watched as his adventure-seeking brother, Sam, leave him behind in an orphanage, promising to reunite one day, when they’re older. That particular reunion moment never arrived, with Nathan now living in New York City, working as a bartender and a petty thief, using his sleight of hand moves that his brother taught him. Enter one Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a treasure hunter who once worked with Sam before their separation long ago, requesting help concerning a massive fortune of old connected to the Magellan expedition in the 1500s. Hesitant to trust Sully, Nathan soon agrees to along with the plan, with the pair in search of a special golden cross artifact that paints the way to the elusive treasure. Also on the hunt for the Magellan’s treasure is Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a rival treasure hunter, who’s joined by his top enforcer, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), aiming to collect the gold cross first and make their own way around the world. Also joining the search is Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), another fortune hunter, who’s willing to help Nathan and Sully on their adventure as they trot the globe searching for clues as to where the Magellan’s gold is located. As all parties draw ever closer, Nathan soon finds himself in an unfamiliar landscape of adventures and treasure seekers, with a destination that brings great fortune as well as dangerous pitfalls.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


While not a hardcore video game player, I would consider myself to be a slightly more advance causal gamer. This means that I do play video games a little bit more than the average person, but not so much as to those who find comfort in playing for hours on it…and on various online platforms (clans, groups, etc.) and a console / PC medium. Don’t get me wrong…. if you are one that’s fine (and I’m proud of you). I’m more in love the single-player video game releases, investing my personal leisure time in captivating story, with most RPG games to my liking. Uncharted is a slightly different variations of my personal appeal as I wasn’t immediately hooked on the franchise. It wasn’t several years later when I actually picked up a copy with the bundle pack for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted: Among Thieves (the first and second games of the series) for the PlayStation 3. After playing the first game, I was immediately enthralled with the franchise; finding the exploited adventures of Nathan Drake to be highly fun and engrossing from start to finish. The action was great, the platform was entertaining (yet challenging in a few areas), and the puzzle solving was intriguing. Plus, wrapping all of this up within a grand Indiana Jones-style narrative makes for a grand cinematic storytelling with some impressive visual graphics and solid voice acting across the board (always love Nolan North as Nathan Drake). Personally, I would say that Uncharted: Among Thieves is my personal favorite entry in the series. It’s no wonder why the Uncharted games are a highly praised franchise within the PlayStation exclusive releases as well as helping elevate Naught Dog’s reputation for quality style video game developer in the industry. Basically, the Uncharted video game series is immensely entertaining to play, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great action / adventure platformer that is presented in a cinematically beautiful story of wealth, greed, and exploration.

Of course, this brings me back around to talking about the film Uncharted, a 2022 action-adventure movie that is based on the video game series of the same name. I think was after the release of Tomb Raider (the 2018 remake, not the 2001 and 2003 features) that I mentioned to someone that would like to see an Uncharted movie materialize sometime soon. Sure enough, Hollywood was already on the path of getting a movie like this on the right track, with the development for the film adaptation of Naughty Dog’s popular franchise. In fact, one could say that adapting the Uncharted narrative into a feature film has been sort of been in a “development hell” ….dating all the way back to 2009, with several actors, producers, and directors shifting in and out of the project. It was until a few years back until the Uncharted film solidified nicely with what it became, with actor Tom Holland playing the role of Nathan Drake and actor Mark Wahlberg playing Sully. At first, I was a little bit disappointed by the casting choices for the upcoming movie, especially after seeing 2018 short live-action film that had actors Nathan Fillion as Drake and Steve Lang as Sully. Although, after seeing the movie’s upcoming marketing campaign, including the movie trailers every so often, having Holland and Wahlberg in the lead roles began to grow on me. Also, being a fan of the video games, I was definitely quite interested to see a film adaptation of Uncharted. However, the movie did have several delays before its theatrical release (mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic) …. until the feature finally landed on a date of February 18th, 2022. So, I decided to check out the movie on its opening day to see if the anticipated hype for the film was indeed well met. And what did think of it? Well, it was okay. Despite the spirited adventure of treasure hunting and puzzling cracking, Uncharted provides a fun (yet generically serviceable) action adventure that is hampered by a formulaic narrative that lacks the same spark and charisma the console games presented. It definitely is a paradoxical project both works and doesn’t work at the same time, which can be frustrating to say the least.

Uncharted is directed by Ruben Fleischer, whose previous directorial works include such films like Gangster Squad, Zombieland, and Venom. Given his track record of directorial works, Fleischer seems a suitable / capable director to tackle such a film project as adapting the Uncharted video game franchise into a new theatrical medium. In that regard, I think that Fleischer does a pretty decent job. In the film isn’t perfect (more on that below), but what’s presented definitely works for what is necessary for a feature film that explores hunters and seekers looking for an adventure and buried treasure. I also have to say that Fleischer does a good job in making the most of the feature’s representation to a certain degree. What do I mean? Well, if you haven’t played Uncharted games, the core entry titles carry the same bravado of that of Indiana Jones, with a lot of puzzling solving, action chase sequences, gun fights, treasure hunting, large-than-life characters, and a globetrotting journey to find treasure. Of all that, Fleischer incorporates those nuances into the film and makes a clear-cut representation of Uncharted into a cinematic adaptation. There’s all that as well wisecracking dialogue banter, clue solving, and likeable charm within the main lead. The action in the movie is also staged quite well, with such various sequences having some fast-paced movement and frenetic energy that Fleischer and his team utilize. Fleischer also embraces the comedic touches nicely from the video games and never takes the feature that seriously; finding the danger and comedy going hand-in-hand. The franchise “bread and butter” of the Uncharted series and I do applaud that the film retains that touch effectively. It’s a treasure hunter movie through and through…. something similar to what one could expect from an Indiana Jones-esque style of adventure, which is what the console games evoke. The film’s third act set piece is where the feature truly does shine the most and definitely keeps the visual aesthetics and action / dialogue sequences to mirror that of the video games. It’s over-the-top ridiculous nature high adventure, dangerous narrow escapes, back-and-forth snappy dialogue. This portion of the film is the closets that the movie comes into translating the video game’s spectacle. Thus, Fleischer’s Uncharted is a different origin tale to Nathan Drake, but definitely keeps the spirt of adventure as a fun variation that still harkens back to the over-top action-adventure escapades that the games are known for.

Movies that are based on video game franchise and / or properties are a bit of mixed bag as some came be halfway decent, while most are just flat-out bombs; failing to find a proper medium balance in translating from pixels to the silver screen. Fleischer does make the most of Uncharted, which results in the movie being better video game film adaptations than most. Another thing that Fleischer does a good job is keeping the feature light on its toes and always has something worth seeing. Never did I find myself bored while watching the film nor did it feel bloated or go off on a tangent. Fleischer keeps everything tight for a good runtime of 116 minutes (one hour and fifty-six minutes) …. just shy of the two-hour mark. Could’ve the film have been longer? Yes, absolutely as I think it could’ve benefited for an additional ten minutes (adding one or two more scenes), but the final cut runtime of Uncharted is good and offers a breezy runtime with an overall good pace of narrative progression. In short, Uncharted, for better or worse, is a fun action-adventure that evokes the spirt of the games of which it is based upon, with Fleischer presenting a theatrical motion picture delivers on grand adventure and quippy dialogue banter from most of its characters. It’s not great, but still measured correctly in a way that makes sense for a film adaptation and for mainstreaming audience viewers.

In the technical presentation category, Uncharted fits the bill for today’s Hollywood big tentpole feature film endeavors; providing plenty of visual cues, sights, sounds, and overall theatrical nuances to make this grand treasure hunting adventure feel cinematic within it’s narrative. From elegant museums to underground grotto caverns, the film (like one would expect) is a globetrotting series of events that looks and feels appropriate for an Uncharted action-adventure flick and does a good job in making the feature’s background setting nuances the right way for a solid cinematic treatment of the video game film adaptation. Thus, the movie’s “behind the scenes” team, including Shepherd Frankel (production design), Kata Bartyik and Elli Griff (set decorations), Anthony Franco and Marlene Stewart (costume designs), and the entire art direction team, for their efforts in making Uncharted’s visual appeal and background come alive with such flair and wholesome style. Even the film’s cinematography, which was done by Chung-hoon Chung, is quite effective and provides that cinematic feeling in a few key areas where the film’s narrative needs the extra theatrical boldness to make events and sequences “pop” with spectacle grandness. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Ramin Djawdi, is great throughout the entire film, effectively bring the “bigness” of an action-adventure heroism in almost every scene, which is a good thing. Plus, during the film’s climatic moment in the third act, Djawdi does incorporate the video game main theme song from Uncharted into the score, which was fantastic to hear. It’s subtle, but be on the lookout for when it shows up.

Unfortunately, Uncharted does suffer several points of criticisms that don’t take away from the overall fun and enjoyment, but hold it back from surpassing high expectations as well as going above and beyond the iconic video game source material. Why? Well, for starters, the movie itself can’t overtake the sure pleasure and highly entertainment found in the original PlayStation games, which is quite strange as the film has all the right pieces and ingredients to make such a thing happen. That being said, the movie struggles to find a good balance in trying to replicate such sequences of events the right way. Of course, as I mentioned above, the feature’s third act is the closes that Uncharted movie comes to replicate the same type of caliber that the games produces. However, while not boring, the rest of the film just feels a tad generic, with the routine clue finding and cat-and-mouse game of the good guys fighting the bad guys. Basically, Fleischer and his team can’t quite grasp the true essences of the Uncharted games the right way, which results in the film having a sum part of better action-adventure tropes and cliches. Naturally, there is Indiana Jones, but also National Treasure, Sahara, Tomb Raider, Congo, and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. In short, the movie has the perfect opportunity to take an existing franchise, one that already has a ton of praise for its cinematic feeling and translate it to a theatrical medium. The result only half works and ends up more bland and generic rather than being something truly grand and epic.

One of the main reasons for this would have to be the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Hollway, Jon Hanley Rosenberg, and Mark D. Walker. As one can imagine from those list of contributors, Uncharted’s story / screenplay formularization has “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome, which results in a scenarios and situations playing out in a predictable fashion. Even the film’s opening big introduction of how Nathan meets Sully feels very wonky and rushed, especially compared to how they actually met in the video games (as seeing in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception). I personally would’ve done something much more creative and / or have a great impact rather than what was presented in such a straightforward way. Basically, the movie itself is very straightforward, despite having the obvious twists and turns, and could’ve added a lot more substance rather than the surface level plot points and character moments. Additionally, the scenarios of such characters also feels bland to the touch, raising to the occasion only in a few pocket areas in the feature. I know that the Uncharted games are like that (to a certain degree), but are fully developed throughout the course of the games. The screenplay can’t match that, which results in the film having some formulaic / familiar narrative paths and sequences of events.

Lastly, while I do praise the film for having a good visual presentation throughout, Uncharted does have several bad CGI effect shots that seem quite dated. Of course, these moments are meant for dramatic action sequences, which have to be utilized for the film’s narrative storytelling points, but the rendering of such visual effects is poorly done and feels cheap, which (again) loses the cinematic wizardry that the movie wants to convey on screen.

The cast in Uncharted is collectively a capable and likeable assemblage of acting talents, with a few notable / recognizable ones headlining the feature in some of the feature’s principal players. However, the biggest problem is that the movie’s script never truly shapes the film’s characters to be nothing more than just generic / stock-like caricatures of the classic Indiana Jones adventure romp. Thus, the material given to many of these actors and actresses isn’t much to stand out…..resulting in the acting talent themselves trying to cultivate a memorable performance within such cliché characters. Leading the charge in this endeavor is actor Tom Holland, who plays the movie’s central protagonist role of Nathan Drake. Known for his roles in the Spider-Man franchise (Homecoming, Far from Home, and No Way Home) as well as Chaos Walking and Cherry, Holland has quickly become a rising star of Hollywood next generation of actors; amassing fame and popularity with a lot of his theatrical releases. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Holland would be attached to a project like this and actually delivers on me one of the most memorable characters of the entire Uncharted feature. Given his likeable charm and youthful energy that was cultivated in his role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man from the MCU, Holland has adopted that same type of charisma into his portrayal of Nathan Drake; providing plenty of fun dialogue lines and delightful nuances throughout.

The big downside to Holland playing Nathan Drake in the movie (at least to me) is younger appearance of the character that is represented in the film. If you’ve played the game, then you know that the character of Nathan Drake is depicted as a more of a roughly thirty-something (or older if you count the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) adult and has a more or rogue-ish man’s man gunslinger swagger about him; something akin to a variation of Indiana Jones. Holland, while full of charm and screen presence, can’t seem to replicate that mantra fully, feeling slightly out of place for a character role that needs a bit manly. Of course, this is an origin tale, which probably they (the studio) decided to go with a younger / youthful looking Nathan Drake rather than a more mature looking one. Still, while Holland is solid in the role and does a good job…. I would prefer the PlayStation console game version of Nathan Drake over the live-action film adaptation one.

Who I would say that is miscast in the movie is actor Mark Wahlberg, who plays the character of Victor “Sully” Sullivan, a seasoned and experience treasure hunter thief who recruits Nathan Drake on his search for Magellan’s gold. Known for his roles in The Departed, The Fighter, and Ted, Wahlberg has always been a capable actor in whatever project he’s attached himself to; providing the mostly “tough guy” bravado with a mixture of comedic nuances on a few occasions. This is case with his involvement in Uncharted, with Wahlberg playing up the strengths that the actor is known for utilizing in many of his characters. On that front, I would say that Wahlberg does succeed and creates Sully to his usually character of persona. To the casual moviegoer, the casting of him as Sully is fine and nothing wrong. However, ask a fan of the Uncharted games (like myself) and they would say that Wahlberg is a miscast. Why? Well, it’s because doesn’t portray the character of Sully the right way. Sure, he gets the personality and bravado of experienced thief, who can’t be fully trusted (as seeing in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune), but Wahlberg doesn’t fully embody the character, lacking the necessary grit, grizzly, and swagger of a seasoned fortune seeker that the video game Sully character is quite known for. Thus, it is hard to fully buying into Wahlberg’s interpatation….at least for me and I do expect a lot of fans of video games. Personally, it would’ve been so cool if actor Steven Lang (again, who played Sully in the short live-action film of Uncharted) played the role. Again, just my opinion.

Additionally, the chemistry between Holland and Wahlberg is good and is decent enough to get the job done in the feature. It’s not as magnetic or electrifying as it is between the characters in the Uncharted games (the voice talents of Nolan North and Richard McGonagle), but it works for what the movie is and the pair have that signature “back and forth” banter, which I liked.

Faring better than Wahlberg is actress Sophia Ali (The Wilds and Truth or Dare), who plays the character of Chloe Frazier, another treasure hunter thief who is past colleague of Sully. Ali has the right balance of action and comedy beats, which makes the character endearing to watch from start to finish. There is not much to her character backstory (unlike in the games), but I think it was nice fit to include Chloe into this Uncharted film and fits well against Holland’s Nathan and Wahlberg’s Sully. Who actually fares the worst in the movie is actor Antonio Banderas (Desperado and The Mask of Zorro) as Santiago Moncada, a wealthy entrepreneur who has his eyes on claiming Magellan’s treasure for his own ambition. Banderas is a fine actor, and his past work speaks for itself, but his involvement in Uncharted is a bit wonky. Why? Well, the character of Santiago is not that really interesting. He’s not really super evil, but more of a cookie cutter villain one would expect to find in a action-adventure film of the globetrotting variety. Again, this goes back to the weak screenplay for the feature and does little to make the character entertaining or even memorable. Banderas does what he can with the material given to him, yet, despite his attempts, the character of Santiago Moncada winds up being the least interesting in the entire film…. resulting in a lackluster villain. True, the villains of the Uncharted games really weren’t that complexed or well-rounded, but they were indeed memorable. Sadly, Santiago Moncada is not. Of the villains, I would say that actress Tati Gabrielle (You and The 100) does a much better job at being an antagonist in the film than Banderas does, with her character of Jo Braddock, a treasure hunter adventure who is hired by Moncada to find the gold before Sully, having a greater impact on the story and being just an overall memorable baddie. Gabrielle does provide to be quite effective and handles herself well in whatever scene she is in…. making Braddock quite the scene stealer whenever called upon. The flip side, however, is that she (like the story itself) is pretty straightforward and never goes beyond the “surface level” characterizations.

The rest of the cast, including stuntman / actor Pingi Moli (Bird Box and Empire) and actor Steve Waddington (Sleep Hollow and The Last of the Mohicans) as Braddock’s two muscle goons named Hugo and The Scotsman respectfully. Both play out as one would expect from lumbering bad guy enforcers, so it’s a bit “no harm, no foul” for me when it comes to them. Also, the movie does have a cameo appearance of a voice actor from the Uncharted games. Who is it? And when does he or she appear? I won’t spoil the surprise, but just be on the look for it.

Lastly, the movie does have two mid-credit scenes at the end of the movie. I won’t spoil it or go into detail as to what is presented, but I will say that it left me wanting more from this movie in a bit of frustrating way. The pieces are all there and, being a fan of the games myself, gives this film adaptation of Uncharted some possible glimmer of future chance of a sequel that is yet to come. I just hope that if a second feature is greenlit that it goes beyond boundaries of this particular origin tale of Nathan Drake and have more of a…. feeling of PlayStation games.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Fortune favors the bold as Nathan Drake and Sully go on a globetrotting adventure in search of Magellan’s long lost treasure, while evading pursuers and dangerous pitfalls in the movie Uncharted. Director Ruben Fleischer’s latest film takes the widely popular Naughty Dog video game franchise and translates into a feature film presentation; generating styles of Indiana Jones-esque adventures that provide plenty of distraction for a theatrical runtime. While the movie struggles to find a creative energy through its lacking screenplay and overall originality, the film itself is decent enough to make for spots of fun and entertainment in a high-scale treasure hunting endeavor, thanks to a few solid stage action sequences, familiar tropes, a breezy runtime, a stylish presentation, and an overall likeable cast. To me, the movie was good, but nothing grand. There was a lot of what I liked about the film, for I did enjoy it, but it definitely could’ve been the feature’s script / storytelling department as well as the characters. As I said above…the film is a paradoxical project that works, but doesn’t at the same time. That being said, I actually prefer 2018 Tomb Raider film rather than this one. Thus, my recommendation for this is a “iffy choice” as I’m sure fans of the games might find a special appreciation for the movie than the average viewer, yet I believe some causal moviegoers possibly might find the adventure escapism appealing. The film’s ending leaves the door open for a possible sequel and, while I do welcome one, I do believe that the next installment needs to be more refined than this one. In the end, Uncharted does what sets out to do by creating a Hollywood cinematic treatment of the popular video game franchise; indulging new bombastic sequences of puzzle solving and treasure hunting, while suffering from a generic blandness that can’t stand out or replicate the same type of entertainment caliber that the PlayStation games were able to create. There’s still plenty of fun to be had in this action-adventure flick, but it’s saddled with a safe and predictable conception narrative formula that never reaches the same cinematic greatness caliber of that of its video game counterpart

3.6 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)

 

Released On: February 18th, 2022
Reviewed On: February 19th, 2022

Uncharted  is 116 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence / action and language 

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