One of the first things that caught my attention during the press screening of Uncharted was the PlayStation Productions logo in the opening credits. Not just a mere logo but rather a 20-second animation, complete with some of PlayStation’s famous video game characters’ appearances. It sure looks cool, particularly if you are a fan of PlayStation games.
Uncharted also turns out to be the first film released under the PlayStation Productions banner, which was formed in 2019. But despite making history and such, the big-screen adaptation of Naughty Dog’s popular action-adventure video game series of the same name is nothing more than a mediocre knockoff of Indiana Jones and National Treasure.
Positioned as a feature-length prequel to the video game series, the film focuses on the younger version of Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake (Tom Holland), who is yet the famous treasure hunter that we know of. We first saw him working as a bartender and knows a thing or two about flair bartending as if he’s pulling Tom Cruise’s Brian Flanagan in Cocktail (1988). He happens to be a pickpocket too, making good use of his sleight-of-hand skill to steal his wealthy customer’s jewellery.
Enter Sully (Mark Wahlberg), who is in the bar trying to recruit him to find the lost treasure of Ferdinand Magellan centuries ago. Nate is reluctant at first but it doesn’t take long before he agrees to join him for the treasure hunt. Sully happens to know his long-lost older brother, Sam as well, who left Nate when he was just a kid. There’s a chance they might find Sam too but before that, they have to deal with various obstacles and setbacks. And this includes Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his team of mercenaries led by Braddock (Tati Gabrielle). Then, there’s Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who also wanted to get her hands on the Magellan treasure.
Uncharted has been a victim of development hell for over a decade when David O. Russell (yes, the same guy who gave us The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) was first attached to direct the film. That was in 2010 and back then, Mark Wahlberg was initially cast as Nathan Drake, even though many fans prefer to see Nathan Fillion in the iconic treasure-hunter role instead. But Russell chose to drop out due to creative differences and since then, Uncharted has undergone several changes of different directors (Neil Burger, Shawn Levy and 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s Dan Trachtenberg, just to name a few), who were all attached but failed to get the film off the ground.
Finally, Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland and Venom fame took over the director’s chair and he does show some technical prowess here. This can be evidently seen during the plane scene straight out from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception game, where Holland’s Nate leaps from one dangling crate to another before experiencing a freefall. It was the single best moment in the film and I get why this particular scene was heavily promoted in the trailers. The spectacular final third act is worth mentioning too, which involved helicopters carrying pirate ships attached to the cables.
Too bad scenes like these are only a few and far between. Fleischer did include some National Treasure-like puzzle-solving moments but his overall execution feels like it’s a walk in the park. And it doesn’t help either when the stakes are surprisingly low most of the time. But the biggest problem of all has to be the film’s decision to venture into the prequel territory rather than adapting one of the stories from the video games. Sure, there are a few nods from the video game series, namely the aforementioned Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. And yet, there aren’t enough to overcome the bland origin-story approach of introducing a younger Nathan Drake.
This, of course, brings me to the controversial casting decision of Tom Holland playing the role. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that I’m watching him acting all witty and boyishly reckless like Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was only released two months ago in December last year. He sure handles the physically-demanding moments well enough, given his experience in Spider-Man films. His buddy-movie chemistry with Mark Wahlberg’s Sully, in the meantime, is a mixed bag. In terms of individual performance, Wahlberg’s largely sardonic performance feels like he’s stuck in the same old schtick that we see him too many times before in other action films.
As for the rest of the supporting cast, Antonio Banderas sleepwalks throughout his antagonist role as Moncada. However, Tati Gabrielle shines as Moncada’s ruthless knife-wielding mercenary, Braddock while Sophia Ali delivers a feisty turn in her role as Chloe Frazer.
Overall, it’s kind of a pity what we get here is a lukewarm action-adventure that charted off course instead of a potentially above-average effort. There are two post-credits scenes, though — both of which are hinted for the future sequel(s), provided the first Uncharted itself manages to make enough money in the box office.