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Review: Uncharted – “Brings the Great Game to Great Movie crossover much closer”

It’s a running joke that movies based on video games are bad, so maybe Hollywood should stop making them. But then something in gaming changed. Video game studio Naughty Dog started making games that felt like the movies, including the wildly successful action-adventure series, Uncharted. Uncharted players are treated to several cut scenes between game levels called ‘cinematics’, which cleverly further the plot. But, if those scenes were strung together to form a film they’d unlikely garner any Oscars. So why not make the leap over to actual cinema? In general, action-adventure game adaptions don’t do badly on the big screen.  All three Tomb Raider movies made decent box office money, yet they weren’t exactly adored. For Uncharted Sony Pictures brought on director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom) and cast two of the world’s most recognisable actors as testament to Sony’s confidence in their product. Is this confidence warranted? Possibly.

{A quick note: Uncharted the movie will hit different for audiences familiar with the games (me) and those who have no idea who Nathan Drake is. The scriptwriters have cherry-picked details from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and completely messed with the canon. Anyway…}

The story goes like this: After their parents’ mysterious deaths, Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake (Tom Holland) and older brother Sam are sent to an orphanage. Sam is an amateur cat burglar obsessed with discovering the location of famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s lost riches. When Sam and Nate get caught trying to steal Magellan’s map, Sam gets carted off to Juvie. 10 years later, Nate is a bartender with a casual thievery side hustle. Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) catches Nate in the act and asks him if he wants in on a much bigger heist. Turns out, Sully and grown-up Sam have been getting closer to finding Magellan’s treasure, until Sam went missing. If Nate steps in, he can help Sully get hold of an ornate gold cross at auction – the key to the treasure’s location. Alas, rich treasure hunter Moncada (Antonio Banderas) also wants the cross, aided by henchwoman Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle). Add another treasure hunter, Chloe Fraser (Sophia Ali) to the mix and the gang leap continents, solve puzzles and enter secret anterooms hoping to lay their hands on the legendary riches.

This is definitely not the worst movie made based on a computer game. It’s a fun adventure. Holland and Wahlberg have a good, spiky rapport, and there’s a nice subplot about trust woven in. Uncharted equally makes great use of Gabrielle and Ali, each as mercenary as the other. Naturally, viewers must suspend disbelief when Nate jumps a cavernous distance or survives fifty knocks from flying objects. Here, this can be a sweet nod to the games. However, the puzzles Nate must solve don’t stand up to scrutiny, and Antonio Banderas is phoning in his generic Spanish bad guy (better executed in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard). How good the movie does depends on the film getting seen by a wider audience. There’s no emotional weight to Uncharted, which feels at odds with the games, where players easily fall in love with their playable characters. And with Holland currently playing the People’s Spiderman, there isn’t enough here to allow him to carve out space for Drake. He’s also far too young. Wahlberg does a much better job at rounding out a character without a game back story, especially the addition of his cat. Fleischer does do a neat job with the stunts, and there are a lot of stunts. But if there is a sequel (and boy, does this film beg us for a sequel – see the end credits scene) more must be done to establish Drake as a character as beloved as Indiana Jones. If anything, this film primarily operates as a two-hour ad for the games.

Nathan Drake’s motto is ‘Greatness from Small Things’. Uncharted brings the game-to-movie crossover a step closer to greatness, but we’re not quite there yet.

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