Movie Review – Uncharted

Principal Cast : Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Rudy Pankow, Stephen Waddington, Alana Boden, Nolan North, Piloi Asbæk.
Synopsis: Street-smart Nathan Drake is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan, and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada.

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The long, interminable line of shitty movies based on video games continues with Uncharted, a Tom Holland vehicle capitalising on his Spider-Man popularity and yet, without compunction, skewering his lustre as a box-office draw with yet another insipid, poorly developed and utterly asinine adventure larks that never quite comes together. Having never played the series of games upon which Uncharted is based – although they are incredibly popular – I come into this film with absolutely no preconceived ideas as to what I should expect or even what it’s about, although online discussion often involves comparisons to National Treasure or Indiana Jones, so I guess on some level I should expect… I don’t know, treasure-hunting fun? What a shame the film delivers the former but entirely misses the latter.

Young history buff and part-time pickpocket Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is on the prowl for fame and fortune, when he meets fellow treasure hunter Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who tries to recruit the younger man to join him on a globetrotting quest: discover the final resting place of the fabled treasure of Magellan, somewhere in the East Indies. Both are accompanied by fellow treasure hunter Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who aids them in their mystery solving adventures, but they are pursued by the mercenary Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who is working for the descendant of the Magellan expedition’s financiers, Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas, apparently having a blast playing really shitty bad guys in movies these days), and who seeks to restore his family’s name. As they locate various clues to the whereabouts of Magellan’s treasure, Drake, Sullivan and Frazer find themselves on a globe-trotting race for glory and a place in the history books.

Playing a little like a male-driven Tomb Raider, with a touch of National Treasure and a smidgen of Allan Quartermain, Ruben Fleischer’s gormless adaptation of Uncharted quickly unravels the longer things play out. Tom Holland, as likeable and affable a chap as you’ll ever meet, seems the perfect choice for the young whippersnapper role of Nathan Drake, although in the games the character is older so I guess Holland was cast so he could age-up into the franchise? Mark Wahlberg is… well, Mark Wahlberg, I guess. He’s as flippant and comic-relief-y as always in this, as Sully, and had the film been about him flying solo it might have been a cheesy piece of adventuresome fun. The film jams Holland and Wahlberg together as an odd-couple buddy-comedy style romp, which is a tried-and-true method of giving a film some pep, but inexplicably neither have any chemistry with the other, resulting in a cringey, myopically flat sense of camaraderie that never sparkles like it needs to.

The trio travel the world, plagiarising Spielberg’s Indiana Jones or even modern James Bond as they gallivant across exotic locales in search of treasure and battling faceless henchmen in the quest for glory. Sophia Ali, trying desperately to deliver what I’m told is an Australian accent (which I didn’t realise until it was pointed out to me, and I’m Australian myself!), is sweet and fun as Chloe Frazer, who is a like-for-like against Holland’s square-jawed and clear eyed take on Nathan Drake. But she, like Holland, fails to generate chemistry with the male leads – her performance isn’t bad, given the material, its just that if these three treasure hunters are supposed to be best frenemies, why do they feel like blocks of wood clacketing together in the back of a lumberjacks cart? There’s no real sizzle between any of them, and it makes for cumbersome, ungainly viewing.

Somebody who is obviously having fun is Antonio Banderas, as the snarling, moustache-twirling Moncada, the film’s archetypal antagonist. He has the film’s best character arc (and best developed) and you can at least see why he wants to chase down the billion-dollar loot. A lot of  Banderas’ characters heavy lifting is performed by the stylish but meagre Tati Gabrielle, whose choice of hairstyle in Uncharted looks like congealed yogurt slapped like alabaster across her head, and who is done a significant disservice by the pitiful script. That the film’s major Bad Guy is actually a Bad Girl is something to celebrate in and of itself, I just wish the writers and Fleischer had done something better with her. Braddock is badly underutilised and insufficiently menacing in this movie.

Uncharted just never seems to get started. Oh sure, there’s a script, and a plot, and the interminable solving of cryptic puzzles left behind by Drake’s supposedly deceased brother (seen in a prologue played by Rudy Pankow) but there’s no sense of fun, or even a sense of jeopardy in this green-screen extravaganza that’s almost entirely derivative of other, better franchises. The plot twists aren’t so much twists as they are straight lines, the expositional dialogue lacks the electricity of the unseen or unexplored, and the pursuit to Magellan’s final treasure feels almost anticlimactic after such meandering and meaninglessly contrived puzzle-box solving. There’s no sense of awe or wonder here, just a couple of blokes and a chick traipsing about looking for gold because…. well, for reasons. Fleischer is unable to give the film any real emotional heft (a sidebar throughline in which Drake’s brother leaves behind postcards as clues, and that Nathan continues to believe his older sibling is still alive somewhere, isn’t nearly as clever or cathartic as the film supposes it is) and his direction of the action, as slick and well edited as it is, feels antiseptic and lacking gravitas.

The film tries to echo the JJ Abrams modernised use of in medias res to open proceedings, dropping us right into the middle of an action scene in motion (the falling from the plane sequence featured heavily in the trailers), before flashing back to Nathan’s childhood and winding its way to the present day, and I guess it works sort of? I mean, the sequence is nearly thrilling but the fact the visual effects look so digital, so wonky, it took me out of the film almost before it had a chance to start. This isn’t the only affront to the audience, however: the film’s climactic Magellan-ship finale is one of those jaw-dropping so-unbelievable-it’s-laughable kind of sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in a Fast & Furious movie. Watching two centuries-old galleons hoisted into the sky by helicopters and swung about the Indonesian ocean like amusement park rides, without the option of physics or gravity or anything to guide us, was enough to induce me to hit mute and watch the rest of this dreck in absolute silence. I get it, it’s supposed to be uproarious fun, and supposed to be an insane scene to cap off a movie of insanity overall. Uncharted doesn’t work hard enough to engage the viewer to utilise this as a payoff without looking entirely desperate.

Uncharted is an unmitigated disaster of a film for Sony and the newly created PlayStation Productions. Not financially – the film was a commercial success, at least – but in terms of story and longevity I would doubt the franchise in its live action iteration will last much longer unless some significant effort is put into making either the characters better written, or the plot more accessible, than what we see here. I don’t know anyone who saw this film who’ll be rabidly lining up to see a sequel, despite Sony’s assurance that this is merely the first in a lengthy planned franchise for the studio. Inane, superficial action might sell tickets for a while, but I think eventually audiences are going to ask for deeper characters and connections between them, something Uncharted absolutely refused to do. The fact that Holland is so likeable and yet so blandly vanilla in this role, so impossibly benign, makes for an uncomfortable realisation in many corners of the internet – Tom Holland ain’t nothing if he’s not playing Spider-Man. Outside of the eponymous Marvel superhero, Holland’s film career has sputtered, with audiences apparently unwilling (or unable) to see him as anyone other than Peter Parker.

Uncharted is a video game movie that feels like watching somebody else play a video game. It’s often unfunny, lacks grace or care with its characters or the plot, and is resoundingly mediocre with its action sequences and some of the shady visual effects. Holland, Wahlberg and Ali are typically solid actors in their own right, but at no stage does Uncharted allow them the freedom or the ability to shine, and the chemistry between the trio, which is central to the whole movie, is absent entirely. A shame: this much money should be spent on other, better films than this. Uncharted is a film of inexplicable mediocrity and I’m disinclined to worry about any sequels. Stick around for a pair of mid-credit sequences that assume we’ll all be back for more.

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