The long-awaited video-game adaptation is generically enjoyable
The video game production company Naughty Dog has prided itself in delivering some of the highest quality games in recent years, both in terms of gameplay as much as story. In many ways, the success of its games comes from a very cinematic approach to their narratives. As such, it is no surprise that properties such as Uncharted (2009) and The Last of Us (2013) have been snatched up to be adapted by Hollywood. The first of these projects to hit the screen is Uncharted (2022) after having gone through development hell since it was first proposed as a film in 2009.
Uncharted is the origin story of the Indiana Jones-like treasure hunter Nathan Drake (Tom Holland). We find him as thrifty thief and bartender in New York, but who longs to dive deeper into the pirate stories he dreamed of as a kid. Opportunity comes knocking when seasoned thief Sully (Mark Wahlberg) recruits him to find the long-lost treasure of Ferdinand Magellan’s world-rounding expedition. As with any treasure-hunting picture, however, there is a rival group vying for the gold, this time headed by the wealthy Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas).
Back when Uncharted was first being developed, Wahlberg was vying for the role of the young Nathan Drake. So long has the film taken to arrive to our screens that he’s aged out into the older mentor character. As such, a variety of directors have cycled through the production with the job finally landing on adept Ruben Fleischer. Fleischer has headed difficult productions before, and yet has consistently delivered solid material throughout. Such was the case with his first Venom (2018) picture, or his Zombieland (2009) films. With Uncharted, Fleischer risks his streak by venturing into the taboo video-game adaptation that has long delivered unwatchable duds.
Fleischer is given a great source material template to pull from. Essentially, viewers are only expecting a mild Indiana Jones knock-off to be satisfied, and this is largely what Fleischer delivers. Uncharted doesn’t reach the heights of the narrative of its own source material or of the Harrison Ford films, but it is able to largely hit the right beats and not stumble on its way to the finish line. This solid mediocrity is difficult to pull off, especially with such a troubled production and so much expectation on its shoulders. There are obvious flaws in the adaptation, from the characters figuring out puzzles a little too quickly, to a mesh of unnecessary backstory, but they are never large enough to distract from the core narrative.
Tom Holland in the lead role is convincing. He portrays a more confident charm compared with the shy dorkiness of Peter Parker in his Spider-Man films, and as such becomes a winning wisecracking action star. I was rather pleased with the chemistry that Holland was able to induce with Wahlberg and Sophia Ali who plays fellow ally Chloe. The biggest weakness of Uncharted is curiously like many of its games: its villain. Banderas is menacing enough for a while, but the film seems to sideline him too much, so that our characters largely face off against enemy thugs in the film; not even Tati Gabrielle as the supposed leader of Moncada’s mercenaries is able to be much of a match for our protagonists.
Fleischer can don rather gripping action sequences and one thrilling sky-diving scene, but most sequences and plot points are rather unimpressive and generic. In the end, Uncharted is a rather by-the-numbers adaptation that plays it safe, but delivers on the important entertainment elements. For a video-game adaptation of this caliber to be mediocrely fine is the true achievement.