Everything comes full circle. Part inspired by popular action adventures like the Indiana Jones trilogy, the Uncharted video game series was an attempt to transpose the cinematic experience of those movies on to the console and give players the opportunity to run, climb and fight their way through globetrotting, cliffhanging epics like Indy once did on the silver screen. Now, after years of development hell, the award-winning game series make the leap onto the big screen but, unfortunately, it’s more of an awkward trip and stumble than an epic jump.
Over four epic instalments and an equally entertaining spin-off, creator Amy Hennig and the team at Naughty Dog developed games that put players right in the middle of big, cinematic death-defying stunt sequences. Ruben Fleisher‘s long-gestating Uncharted film does a good enough job of crafting sequences reminiscent of these game moments, but by cinematic standards, there’s nothing all that new or innovative on display. Whether it’s the film’s opening gambit involving a mid-air fight atop a ladder of air freight containers or an aerial punch-up set across two floating ancient Galleons, there’s certainly a degree of spectacle here that wouldn’t be out of place in an Uncharted game, but it all lacks the urgency and the first-person thrill one gets from playing the games.
The story itself is rather standard treasure hunting fare, but it’s breezy enough at least. There’s a degree of cherry picking in regards to the story and characters, especially when the screenwriters lift iconic character moments from the likes of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Fans of the franchise will instantly pick up on these elements and will no doubt enjoy them in live action form, but the film doesn’t really put its own spin on them, nor does it allow itself to do anything new or interesting in and of itself. Everything here has been seen and done a million times before in the likes of National Treasure, The Mummy or Indiana Jones. There are a few fun moments dotted throughout, but nothing memorable in the long run.
The ultimate problem is the casting. Whether seen through the lens of a game purist or a total newcomer to the franchise, it’s apparent from the off that both of the film’s main stars are woefully miscast in their respective roles. Tom Holland‘s baby-faced take on the heroic Nathan Drake never feels cocky or confident enough, and at times his performance veers dangerously close to the wide-eyed, out-of-his-depth Peter Parker schtick of the Spider-Man films – perfect there but completely wrong for Drake’s classic action hero persona. Elsewhere his co-star Mark Wahlberg, more of a glorified stuntman than an actor at the best of times, is a total non-entity as Drake’s tricky, quick-witted mentor Sully. Gone is the charming, loveable moustached rogue with a penchant for Havana shirts and wisecracks, replaced by… Mark Wahlberg. Score zero for originality.
There are some elements here that work: co-star Sophia Ali is an excellent fit for fan favourite character Chloe Frazer whilst Tati Gabrielle makes for a slightly above average villain as mercenary Braddock. A few of the one-liners smattered throughout elicit a chuckle (especially a certain cameo appearance) and the score by composer Ramin Djawadi is of a quality one would both want and expect of an Uncharted film. The various action set pieces also look great on an IMAX screen, with the expanded aspect ratio and powerful sound upping the ante and delivering an immersive feel to an otherwise standard action flick.
Uncharted is the result of a long-gestation period, and the end result is a Frankenstein’s monster of over-developed big studio fare, barely resembling the source material and disappointingly safe in its approach. It’s hardly what fans of the game franchise or casual cinema goers would really want, and whilst it works well enough to pass an afternoon, the games themselves remain the best way to experience Nathan Drake’s exploits.