Over the course of five games, players have gotten to know Nathan Drake as a fearless, debonair, and experienced explorer who laughs in the face of danger seemingly at every turn. Despite the ground crumbling beneath his feet on a regular basis, Nate always survives and keeps pressing towards the ultimate goal. While Nate’s mission is typically treasure, the film based on his adventures aptly translates the series’ characters to the silver screen while showing viewers a good time along the way. Just like its main character, Uncharted loses its footing a few times en route to its destination. However, once the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but feel that it accomplished its mission.
Warning: While I try to remain as spoiler-free as possible, certain elements of the narrative and characters are mentioned throughout this article.
Uncharted follows a younger Nathan Drake than we’ve seen in the main games (save for some flashbacks). The film starts with a scene from Nate’s time at Saint Francis’ Boys’ Home with his brother, Sam, but this movie largely takes place in the present day. We pick up the modern thread with Nate (Tom Holland), who is bartending in New York. After he sneakily demonstrates his smooth-talking and pickpocketing skill, he’s approached by a man named Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) and asked to help retrieve a special artifact needed to access a treasure.
After some initial planning and discussion, the two are off on their adventure. As you might suspect, the journey takes them to various locales across the globe in search of long-lost treasure and historically significant riches. I won’t spoil the locations, but some of the cinematography and vistas do a terrific job showcasing these gorgeous destinations.
Along the way, we get a good sense of the individual characters Nate and Sully. If you’ve played the Uncharted video games and are used to Nolan North’s portrayal, it takes some time to get your brain to see Tom Holland as Nathan Drake. However, Holland’s performance is terrific, laying on the charm in the character-driven moments and effortlessly weaving quips and exclamations into the high-octane action scenes. I quickly came around to Holland in the role of Nate, but Wahlberg is a tougher sell. Wahlberg does a solid job serving as the silver-tongued, tough-love mentor/partner, and I enjoyed several of his humorous exchanges with Holland, but I never truly felt like I was looking at Sully on the screen.
Additionally, Antonio Banderas delivers an appropriately menacing performance as the film’s main antagonist, Moncada, even if he feels underutilized. As such, Moncada’s arc is unsatisfying. Meanwhile, the mercenary Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) felt like a much more cunning and threatening presence than Banderas’ Moncada from the jump. Gabrielle’s enforcer-like demeanor and skillset had me believing she was the more credible problem for Nate and Sully, despite Moncada’s fortune, connections, and entitled motivation.
Rounding out the main cast, Sophia Ali is excellent at Nathan Drake’s adversarial sometimes-love-interest Chloe Frazer. The Lost Legacy protagonist is well represented, and we get to see the various sides of her character that we’ve come to know with the games. Not only that, but her chemistry with Holland is excellent. Outside of the action scenes, my favorite moments in Uncharted are the interactions between Nate and Chloe.
Speaking of which, Uncharted shines brightest when the action ramps up. Naughty Dog’s games are synonymous with giant set-piece action sequences that are tailor-made for the big screen. Uncharted takes full advantage of that pedigree, delivering stunning, edge-of-your-seat action on multiple occasions. We often talk about how certain video games make you feel like you’re playing through an interactive movie, but the action scenes in Uncharted make you feel like you’re watching someone play one of Naughty Dog’s games.
While Uncharted delivers plenty of excitement and visual feasts throughout its 1 hour 56-minute runtime, the movie’s reliance on the typical treasure-hunt formula is both its greatest strength and most glaring weakness. Tracking Nate and Sully across the globe as they search for the next clue is relentlessly fun, if not largely predictable. Perhaps that’s why I found myself enjoying the over-the-top nature of the action scenes so much: The narrative threads deliver so few surprises that I couldn’t wait to see what the next massive set-piece action moments had in store. Thankfully, those didn’t let me down, even if the climax is so wild it borders on too absurd even for the Uncharted namesake.
Throughout the film, people who have played the games will notice several tiny nods to PlayStation, Naughty Dog, and the Uncharted video games. I’m not going to spoil anything, but they range from blink-and-you’ll-miss-them visual cues to one heavy-handed moment that took me out of the movie and made little sense unless you understood the reference. While not every reference landed, I appreciate the time and respect paid towards the audience that came thanks to their love of the games.
The Uncharted video games set a high bar for storytelling, and though Uncharted doesn’t quite clear that bar, I had a fun time from the very first scene. Through some awe-inspiring action set pieces and strong performances, the film ably showcases the strengths of the game franchise while giving fans a new, albeit slightly familiar storyline.
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