Film Critic James Evenden reviews Uncharted, finding it will please general audiences but fails to step out of its comfort zone
Hollywood has been trying to crack video-game movies for a long time. Uncharted is the latest effort, a very safe and audience-friendly film that will harmlessly divert your attention for a couple of hours. It follows the algorithm of modern studio films that fail to capture any charm found in the original games. It is Indiana Jones watered down, and whilst the film never tries to be anything more than that, it could have been so much more given all the ingredients in place. When it does, on occasion, reach its full potential, the results will leave you with a smile on your face.
Uncharted sees a younger Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) go on a globe-trotting adventure to find lost treasure. Riding the high of his recent success with Spider-Man: No Way Home, Holland’s charm carries Uncharted well enough. He proves himself in his fight scenes and does well with his stunts. The fight choreography is a highlight, as Holland interacts with his environments to produce fight scenes that always feel like he is making it up as he goes, which is reminiscent of the games. He is joined by Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who feels half-asleep in most of his scenes. Holland’s enthusiasm as Drake is weighed down by Wahlberg, who could not seem less interested in playing second-fiddle. This is not helped by a distinct lack of chemistry between the pair.
The dialogue gives neither Holland nor Wahlberg any favours. Attempts at humour fall flat. One specific joke about Sully having Tinder open on his phone when Nathan Drake looks at it felt particularly groan-inducing. The screenplay seems to want a fun back-and-forth with the pair, but it leaves a lot to be desired. When the film wants to get serious in emotional moments, these moments also fall flat. We are not meant to know a lot about these characters, but when Uncharted wants to tug at the heartstrings, it feels forced. The villain, Moncada (Antonio Banderas), speaks how any generic villain would. Banderas does his best with the material, but an uninteresting and unexplored backstory prompts little interest.
Uncharted tries to get you interested with its whiplash pacing. For the most part, it succeeds. The film wisely gives Nathan Drake just enough backstory in its opening. This backstory is taken from the games, so it feels like Uncharted is paying homage to the fans whilst also trying not to alienate anyone who is not familiar with the character already. Before you know it, the adventure has begun. The plot setup feels slightly rushed, but in the grand scheme of things, it does not really matter if you are unclear on a few minor details. You get the gist of it, and for a film like Uncharted, that is all you really need.
The soundtrack for Uncharted bears mention, because despite the somewhat messy plot setup, it works as a benchmark for when the ingredients on the screen do briefly come together. In one brief flare of the theme music from the games in the final action scene, Uncharted realises its full potential. It is both exciting and poignant. It elevates the scene and was a real sign of what this film could have been if it played it less safe and fully went for it.
Uncharted is by no means a terrible film. I understand why director Ruben Fleischer played it safe. There are clear intentions for sequels, and I think the film does just enough to warrant it. The film is exactly what I thought it would be, although I think if you go into it expecting a masterpiece, you will be disappointed. Uncharted never steps out of its comfort zone and will most likely please most general audiences. I hope if there is a sequel, they will use this as a good starting point to take the characters in more daring directions.
Uncharted is out now in cinemas
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