The Uncharted games are essentially what convinced me to buy a PlayStation 3 back in the day, despite already investing in an Xbox 360 and Wii. Playing as Nathan Drake, I realized just how cinematic video games had become. So, the material seemed tailormade for a big-screen adaptation. Mark Wahlberg had been in talks to play Drake as far back as 2010. The project spent so much time in development hell, though, that Wahlberg was ultimately cast as Drake’s mentor, Sully. Tom Holland instead fills Drake’s t-shirt and gun holster. Holland makes for a solid young Drake, although the young should be emphasized.
While Holland gets the character’s cocky charm down, he feels closer to the inexperienced yet capable young Nathan Drake from Uncharted 3. He lacks the rugged edge that Wahlberg probably could’ve brought to the role. This begs the question: why didn’t Holland play a young Drake in flashbacks with Wahlberg as an older Drake? The mentality seems to be that Wahlberg is now too old to play Drake, but is he really? For somebody in his early 50s, the guy could still pass for a 40-year-old. Although it makes sense why the filmmakers wanted to keep a star like Wahlberg onboard, he’s wrong to play Sully. Aside from looking nothing like the character, his one-liners fall flat, and Wahlberg feels awkward in the role. It’s not Dennis Hopper as King Koopa distracting, but a mustached Brad Pitt would’ve been more fitting.
Sophia Ali is the film’s best casting choice as Chloe Frazer, Drake’s possible partner/possible rival/possible love interest/possible frenemy. Although younger than the Chloe in the games, Ali brings out the character’s untrustworthy cynicism while maintaining a cheeky appeal. Tati Gabrielle is also commanding as a henchwoman with the potential to be running the show. While Antonio Banderas makes the most of his screen time, he’s underutilized as a villainous treasure hunter. Oh yeah, being an Uncharted movie, there’s naturally a treasure hunt. In this case, it’s the lost treasure of Magellan, taking our players from Barcelona, to the Philippines, to a Papa Johns. Hey, at least the Sony product placement is restrained.
From Resident Evil to Assassin’s Creed, few video game movies capture the look or spirit of the source material. With Uncharted, director Ruben Fleischer dishes out the over-the-top, Indiana Jones-esque action we associate with the games. He also finds room for espionage, puzzle-solving, and narrow escapes. At times, though, Uncharted can almost feel too faithful to the games. One set piece essentially recreates the cargo plane sequence from Uncharted 3. It’s well-executed and cool to see in live-action, but it’s not as much fun without a controller. The best sequence is the logic-defying climax, which involves two ancient ships and two helicopters. It’s new, but wouldn’t feel out of place in the games. If only the entire movie was like that.
It’s been almost twenty years since we got the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. While that film had some ties to its source material, it also took several risks that paid off. Uncharted plays it safe and thus isn’t inclined to leave as strong of an impression. It goes to show just how difficult video games are to adapt, as there’s a tight rope between being faithful and not faithful enough. For me, there’s just enough thrills and old-school adventure to keep the ship afloat. However, I’m more likely to replay Among Thieves or A Thief’s End before rewatching the movie.