The thing about digging around for treasure – sometimes, you get a diamond in the rough.
Sony’s latest video adaptation, this time of the critically acclaimed Uncharted video game franchise from developer Naughty Dog, is a familiar one that gamers and audiences have seen many times over, from Tomb Raider, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Goonies, to the granddaddy of all treasure hunters, Indiana Jones. Follow the clues to the final payoff, and elude the bad guys along the way, and sometimes, recall Walter Donovan’s advice when he reminded us, “Don’t trust anybody.”
The attraction here is to see how cinema can breathe new life into a video game franchise that inspired the strong narrative that defined the games, along with cinema-like action that has become the gold standard of video games.
Here’s the thing – it doesn’t. This origin story borrows elements across the six core games from the series, but tells its own tale, incorporating new narratives while referencing elements of the game that only fans will appreciate and understand. Sony’s golden boy Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) stars as adventurer and treasure hunter Nathan Drake, but not the one from the game. Both Drake, along with Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg, Transformers: Age of Extinction) meet for the first time in the film, showcasing the foundations of a friendship built on lies, deceit and betrayal.
Interestingly enough, Wahlberg was originally attached to star as Drake when the project was in development back in 2010, but subsequent delays meant that he would finally shift to playing the older Sully, with Holland cast as a young Drake.
After Drake and Sully meet and agree to search for a lost cache of gold, we catch up with other players, including fellow treasure seeker Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali, Grey’s Anatomy), and series newcomers and antagonists, Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro) and Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).
Even if you’ve never played the games, it’s pretty obvious who are good and bad guys are, but if you have, there’s some fun by the writers to establish the relationships between the main characters, and you get to see where they all come from, with their own personal agendas. The film doesn’t do a good job establishing each character in this 116 minute film though, because more of the effort is spent sending everyone, including the audience, from set piece to set piece, one clue to another, and location to another.
Will we question how no one in modern 21st century hasn’t already ‘uncovered’ all the hidden chambers and secret areas in modern historical cities such as Barcelona, or seemingly explored hidden areas in coastal forests that allow sunlight, and thus inquisitive eyes to peer into? You can, but all these hidden locations are also evident in the games, so before you start to criticise, remember that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tried to convince audiences that Al Khazneh (The Treasury) stood in for the Temple of the Crescent Moon, which housed the Holy Grail.
Once you’ve suspended your belief on the impractically of the premise, you can appreciate the action, from Drake jumping, and then being hit by a car, and surviving after being thrown out of a plane, to two ancient vessels from the Magellan expedition of 1522 being hoisted in the air, and the battleground of some aerial stunts that are too reminiscent of Spider-Man.
By the middle of the film, what holds everything together is Holland’s ernest take as Drake, who wants to do the right thing, even though he is a thief, and find out what happened to his missing older brother who abandoned him at the orphanage 15 years ago, and only communicated via sporadic calls and the occasional postcard. His Drake isn’t the cocky version from the games, as personified by veteran video game voice actor Nolan North, but he does enough for audiences to feel for Drake, as he finds in Suly the father-figure whom he never had growing up.
The truth is that the games establish a better and far stronger relationship than this movie ever could, but that’s the benefit of a multi-film franchise. Just as an origin movie can never convincingly establish the bond between say, John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, it’s a good start that highlights the key moments from the games that gamers know and love.
Sure, shortcuts are made but like the National Treasure movies, Uncharted is a fun adventure movie. It borrows heavily from the games, and satisfies in action and mystery, if not logic and . gamers would especially appreciate the call out moments from the game that make their appearance in the movie, including when seeing Drake in his iconic white henley and the first time he puts on his gun holster, to when Holland comes face to face with North in a fitting nod to both talents taking on the same role, but in a different way that is still familiar to audiences.
And be sure to stay to the end for several money shots, including a nice nod to Sully’s look in the game, and a tease for a sequel that indicates that Sony is keen to build a movie franchise around this property, if enough fans embrace it.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Uncharted isn’t going to end the notion that movies adapted from video games are never as good, but it’s an entertaining attempt that embraces the source material, and matches the games’ non-stop action, just not the character building elements.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10