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MOVIES: Uncharted - Review

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Uncharted is the latest film from Zombieland and Venom director Ruben Fleischer, who adapts the hit PS4 game. Full confession: I’ve played almost every entrance in the franchise, save for The Lost Legacy, and completed the four – so I’m approaching this as very much a fan of the games. And this is partly why I think it didn’t work for me, but even setting that aside, I just don’t think it’s a very good movie to begin with as it can’t stand on its own.

The film introduces us to the world of treasure hunting – thieves and bandits rule. In Uncharted, our first encounter with Nathan Drake is through the eyes of his younger self, where he pairs up with his brother Sam to investigate a map containing secrets to buried treasure, but they’re caught and Sam – rather than find himself locked up, runs away – leaving Nate behind. Flashforward to several years later and Tom Holland’s Drake is late for work as a bartender, where he’s stealing watches off customers and generally acting as a young street-smart hustler, who’s recruited for the big time by Mark Wahlberg’s Sully – sans moustache, a wise-cracking partner and duplicitous mentor with a heart for gold, and nothing else. Joining for the ride is Sophia Ali’s charismatic fan-favourite Chloe Frazer, and stepping in for the villainous roles are Antonio Banderas and Tati Gabrielle. So far, standard fare. And that’s unfortunately all Uncharted strives to be, never really taking flight despite the rich potential of the source material.

The film clearly knows the game’s set-pieces – it borrows from them at will; lavishly going all out on a cargo plane sequence where Nathan has to climb up falling cargo in midair. It’s high-stakes, but unlike the game, there’s never any actual excitement – you know what’s going to happen before it does and you know that Nathan is going to survive, there’s never any real sense of jeopardy or stakes. Uncharted achieves much of the lack of stakes by stripping the supernatural element that made the back end of the games so fun from it and turning it into another bog-standard adventure movie, a pale imitation of not just Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean but also other video game adventure movies that we’ve had in the past – the 2018 Tomb Raider puts this film to shame.

Part of the reason why Uncharted doesn’t work is due to the lack of room to breathe – it’s a tight 116 minutes and is packed with so many set-pieces that characters rarely have time to slow down. Everything is spent getting from A-to-B, rendering it entirely feeling like a box-ticking exercise that features fan-service that Solo: A Star Wars Story would be proud of, failing to justify a reason for the whole moustache thing that, even without it, renders the film one of the most poorly casted video game adaptions on film – not only is Wahlberg totally unconvincing, Holland feels more like Peter Parker than Nathan Drake – and there is a difference – the need to make the character younger also robbing him of his uniqueness. Maybe the need to make Nathan younger would have been justified had the film gone in a completely new direction – but it feels like it’s playing out a collection of the game’s greatest hits – raising the question – where do we go from here? If there are any sequels Uncharted has already run out of story to tell – its combination of multiple games’ worth of story fails to leave much of a mark.

The overreliance on CGI is glaring and it as a result feels that you can never buy the environment that the characters are set in – incidentally, the same criticism that I had with Death on the Nile, also out in cinemas. Fight scenes as a result feel entirely stake-less and disorientating at times due to their quick cutting that feels entirely out of place, ruining otherwise promising set-pieces such as a high-stakes aerial pirate ship battle, spoiled in the trailers, that had the potential to be exciting but just really isn’t. It's like Sony took one look at Uncharted, realised it was a popular game, and tried to make a movie out of it without understanding what made the franchise work in the first place – any heart is missing, and the whole thing feels completely soulless – an empty spectacle from the first frame to the last.

If Hollywood can’t even turn a game series that was so story-driven right, what hope does it have for the medium especially when video games are making it so easy for them now with story-based narrative-driven games being relatively common even in an age of multiplayer battle royales? Numerous attempts have come along, tried and failed. Few have succeeded. The future does not look bright – especially when Uncharted would rather spend it having Mark Wahlberg fight in a Papa Johns than actually get to grips with the characters or the franchise, and to add insult to injury Wahlberg feels like a tacked-on-casting choice from the first-rumoured project in 2010 where he was due to play Drake, whilst Holland rides on the wave of his Spider-Man status to the point where it hurts rather than helps.

Uncharted doesn’t strive for big ideas – its mystery surrounding the villain Santiago feels stripped from a basic History 101 class about what people associate with Spain – there’s vague attempts to tie him down to the Inquisition, but it doesn’t stick. Everything feels cookie-cutter without the care or craftmanship that was put into the making the games what they are – truly special, one-of-a-kind accomplishments that are rightly up there as the best of their generation. Even the puzzles are boring!

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