‘No, no, no no, no!’ ‘is one of the trademark phrases of adventurer Nathan Drake in the popular Naughty Dog video game, usually as he struggles to gain purchase on a crumbling temple ledge; if you haven’t played the four astonishingly cinematic Uncharted games, you’ve missed out on one of life’s hidden treasures. Drake is a thief and an adventurer, and his life is a non-stop story of discovery, betrayal and friendship; climbing up a train as it dangles over a precipice, solving centuries old puzzles in mythical kingdoms, navigating ancient buildings at they collapse and firing RPG’s at marauding enemies from horseback. But after a number of wrong turns, and despite the efforts of top talent in front of and behind the camera, one of the best video games of all time makes for a rather ordinary movie.
So non-gamers can start here, since you don’t need a VR helmet to enjoy this lush, expensive venture from Playstation; Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a bartender AND a thief in New York, and he’s approached by suave action-man Sully (Mark Wahlberg) to track down some legendary gold. Hoping to find some clues as to the whereabouts of his long-missing brother, Drake agrees, launching the upstart and his snarky mentor onto a cross-globe trip that takes them up against the ruthless Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his gang of hardball mercenaries.
Part of the problem here is that Uncharted the game featured a world derived from films, then developed into something rather more extravagant; the formula is hard to reverse engineer back to traditional movie tropes. The characters of Drake and pal Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan were fairly boilerplate creations, and their adventures were initially generic; as the games developed, so did the characters and the sophistication of the story. Aside from a brief opening flashback, Ruben Fleischer’s film barely features any of the game’s well-developed lore, looking more like a bland sub-Red Notice action film, and only the last half hour creates the kind of imaginative diorama of ‘Indiana Jones on steroids’ run-and gun-action that the games conjured up with such good humour. There’s a brief shot of Sully doggedly climbing up the mast of a galleon being held in mid-air by a helicopter that’s exactly the right grandiose vibe; it just takes this film a long time to get there.
The casting isn’t great either; Holland is too young for Drake, constantly on the brink or retiring in the game, and Wahlberg doesn’t have Sully’s grizzled cigar-chomping style; Nathan Fillion and Nick Offerman could have filled these roles with much more character. The takeaway is that Uncharted isn’t a game-changer like the IP that it’s based on, but it is a competent blockbuster that will probably work best for those who have never heard of Drake. Holland and Wahlberg are personable stars, and the big action highlights are certainly grand in scope; the best of these lift knockout moments directly from the game like getting caught in the billowing nets of a cargo plane mid-flight. With less humour or gunplay, but more bickering and tedious plotting than might have been expected, the final sequences of Uncharted eventually tap into the enterprising mojo that powers the much-loved franchise, but it’s too little and too late for the millions who will prefer to play the game.
Uncharted is in UK cinemas now and in US cinemas from Feb 18th 2022.