Gaming

Uncharted Review: Formulaic Fun

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Of all of Sony’s hit PlayStation franchises that could transcend different mediums, Uncharted immediately stands out as the one that seems the most adaptable. Treasure hunts and daring heists have played out across screens both big and at home for long enough now that all it would take for Uncharted to make the jump is to slot the existing characters and references into their respective places, and for the most part, that’s what this new live-action Uncharted movie does. It marries established characters with a recognizable cast and will probably be better at attracting new Uncharted fans compared to appealing to the diehards, but it’s a fun, lighthearted time overall.

Uncharted casts Tom Holland as Nathan “Nate” Drake, a treasure hunter known from the Uncharted games for his rugged charm, witty banter, and resourcefulness. Nate’s more of an opportunist and a pickpocket than a worldly adventurer at the start of the film, at least until he’s recruited by Mark Wahlberg‘s character, Sully, who coaxes Nate with the allure of treasure and a reunion with Nate’s older brother, Sam. As anyone who’s seen a treasure-focused movie might’ve guessed, they’re far from the only ones after the score. 

This movie serves as a prequel of sorts, given that it depicts a younger Nate than we’re accustomed to, a direction which was actually executed well by mixing familiar game moments with an introductory storyline to start every viewer off on a more even footing. But even if people didn’t know Holland as Spider-Man first and Nate second, third, or even fourth, it’s difficult to view him as Nate throughout the movie. Holland makes for an excellent adventurer and could depict a superb treasure hunter named anything other than “Nathan Drake,” but Nate’s adventures are well documented by now, which means it was always going to be a big task to fill his shoes.

Still, Holland’s got an impeccable grasp on Nate’s humor, has boundless energy for the role. He bounces off Mark Wahlberg well, but Wahlberg’s even further from Sully than Holland is from Nate with precious little of the mentor character’s personality surviving the jump to film. Sophia Ali as the established Chloe Frazer and Tati Gabrielle as newcomer Braddock, by comparison, dominated their roles and commanded most scenes they were in. Chloe’s had her own adventures independent of Nate’s in the games, and if the same happened with Ali as Chloe in a spinoff, there’d be no complaints.

There’s a briskness to Uncharted’s story reminiscent of smashing through cutscene dialogue as the good and bad guys are ferried around in a game of cat and mouse. Most plot pivotal moments and twists are either predictable or unsurprising, but that doesn’t take away much from the film given how well-trodden the treasure hunting genre is already.

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What shines throughout the film is the choreography of the fights and bigger stunts. Holland’s comedy translates to Nate’s personality well by recognizing the absurdity of the situations he finds himself in, be that hurtling out of a plane or scrapping with a towering Scotsman, and it’s during those moments that it’s most believable we’re watching a young Nate become more worldly by the second. When Nate’s resourcefulness and Holland’s banter intertwine – and they do often enough to make note of – it’s during those moments that it does feel like we’re seeing Nate on the big screen.

The tumbling plane scene advertised so often takes inspiration directly from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, but even beyond that, the movie’s most memorable segments have a unique grasp of video game logic and what makes those replayable moments tick. Are they ridiculous and improbable? Sure, but they wouldn’t be nearly as much fun otherwise. They don’t leave you much time to ponder dubious outcomes or plot armor and instead segue you from one puzzle or brawl to the next, but it’s hard to imagine any other direction working to the degree that tempo does.

By the time the treasure trot starts wrapping things up, it’s much easier to see – or at least see the start of – most of the cast merging with their respective characters. The faithfulness to some of the most recognizable looks is particularly appreciated and makes for great “a-ha!” moments for even the most casual of Uncharted fans.

That’s probably who’ll enjoy this film the most; those who played one or two games in the series and could pick Nathan out of a lineup of protagonists but aren’t invested enough to get hung up on inconsistencies. For those uninitiated to Uncharted, let Holland be your Nate and shelve this movie next to your Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones collections. The more fervent fans may never see their favorite characters translated as well as they’d like, but we’ll almost certainly be getting more movies after this one, so it’s best to look at Uncharted the same way it views itself – not too seriously.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Uncharted releases in theaters on February 18th.

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