“Nuns, why’s it always gotta be nuns” exclaims Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) in a clear riff on the famous Indiana Jones lament. Except Drake is not staring down hundreds of pythons, he’s standing in a quiet Spanish church as a friendly Sister walks by. Hewing far closer to Spider-Man in National Treasure than Raiders of the Lost Ark, no scene in Uncharted better represents the gulf between what it wants to be and what it actually accomplishes.
Based on the video game series of the same name, Uncharted chronicles the early adventures of Nathan Drake, treasure hunter extraordinaire. Years after being separated from his equally intrepid brother Sam (Rudy Pankow), Nate finds himself tending bar at a swanky New York establishment, pickpocketing the clueless socialites that cross his path. He’s content to leave behind the treasures of history that he sought out in his youth and get by on these little grifts until he runs into Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a mysterious man who seems to have some connection to Nate’s brother.
Before the two set off on some larger than life quest for an imaginary treasure, Uncharted actually teases an appetizing potential. Watching Holland discretely lift the jewelry of a snotty trust finder only to be one upped by his equal in sleight of hand is the most fun this film has across its entire runtime. Unfortunately that dynamic disappeared quickly as the video game plot kicks in.
Drake and Sully, now teamed up for a potentially massive score, set off to Barcelona in search of famed explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s lost gold. To find it the pair teams up with a slippery fellow hunter (Sophia Ali) and face off against callous businessmen (Antonio Banderas) and ruthless assassins (Tati Gabrielle). They solve adventure game-esque puzzles, jump out of planes, double cross one another constantly and nearly circumnavigate the globe themselves.
Uncharted is a film filled with action set pieces yet, aside from one chase through a famous Spanish plaza, it has no sense of place whatsoever. A globetrotting adventure that mostly takes place in featureless caverns. Every shot is painted over with a digital gloss that looks one layer removed from simply being a cutscene from the classic video game. Holland doesn’t do much other than hurl a few quips that could easily have been cut from the script of any Uncharted game and somehow Wahlberg manages even less than that. The pair aren’t even particularly miscast, that’s just the nature of portraying a player avatar and a NPC respectively. Every character feels dropped in from the interstitial clips of a game because every actor is being constrained by fealty to static source material.
What holds back Uncharted isn’t a plot that’s best described as National Treasure on steroids, but rather by the inability for it to fully delve into the absurdity of that premise. It can’t be a truly crazy adventure film because it has to be an Uncharted movie. Dueling treasure hunters chasing each other across the globe while solving historical puzzles was once enough on its own to earn Indiana Jones nearly $400 million in box office receipts. National Treasure took it’s own spin on the premise and netted nearly the same. Uncharted would be lucky to even approach that number, despite the IP behind it.
Uncharted isn’t even nearly as bad a film as what it represents more broadly for film. Sony took their biggest movie star in Tom Holland and, in an effort to sell tickets, put him in the lead role of an action movie that exists solely as a trailer for a video game series that can only be played on Sony PlayStations. It’s the gross IP driven, corporate synergy type of film that threatens the future of original storytelling in blockbusters. This is just what big budget movies are now. If something isn’t an interconnected superhero film, it’s a remake, reboot or adaptation of some beloved property starring one of the actors from the superhero films.
Audiences deserve better than to be served up lazy, formulaic rehashes of the things they loved in other formats. Uncharted is more of the same soulless fodder that shovels big movie stars into sexless, non-controversial moneymaking roles because the audience is already built in. This film could have been something worth seeing had it been allowed to breathe or take risks. Instead we get one of the dullest action adventure movies in recent memory promising a whole franchise of the same. Uncharted can never be Raiders because to make Raiders is to take a risk. Studios are simply unwilling to take that chance anymore. IP, that’s why its always gotta be IP. 3/10