A film over a decade in the making – it even played a role in the now-infamous Sony e-mail hack of 2014 – Uncharted, based on the Sony Playstation game series, has weathered the storm of multiple production woes and a global pandemic to finally unleash itself on the big screen. Movies based on video games seldom have a good track record with their dedicated fanbase (just ask Super Mario Bros. and Assassin’s Creed) and, I suspect, Uncharted is likely to earn the same discourse.
I only say that as someone mildly aware of the games and conversing with those intricately familiar with their narrative and game-play. I, personally, have never played the games, so I’m coming into Ruben Fleischer’s actioner free from expectation and comparison, and solely judging it on its merits as a big screen genre piece that breaks no mould within its field but manages to entertain with its familiar premise.
Favouring star power over deep-seated backstory, Uncharted places Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland front and centre, with both actors playing to their signature personas in a manner that barely fleshes out their respective characters; cocky, ill-tempered Victor “Sully” Sullivan and the physically plucky Nathan Drake. After being separated from his brother at their childhood orphanage, treasure-seeking Drake has grown up lifting jewellery from wealthy clientele, something he’s able to do in subtle frequency during his moonlighting gig as a flare bartender. After witnessing his grifts first-hand, Sully, barely introducing himself, offers Drake the type of life-changing score that only exist in outlandish film scripts, telling him of his friendship with his brother and that in Drake retracing his steps comes ancient spoils.
Throughout the course of the film’s 116 minutes, we witness the expected banter and should-I-or-shouldn’t-I trust-the-other temperament that leads the duo on various hunts across the globe. And because there’s always a girl involved in such an adventure, Sully and Drake have to contend with both Chloe (Sophia Ali, sprouting what is assumed to be an Australian accent but barely holding it throughout), a contact of Sully’s who is all too aware that he shouldn’t be taken at face value, and Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, stealing the film from the entire cast combined), an impossibly glamorous villain whose connection with Moncada (a surprisingly underutilised Antonio Banderas), a fellow treasure hunter, consistently keeps her dangerously close to all three.
Much like any of the Indiana Jones films, the Tomb Raider series, or the duo of National Treasure offerings, it isn’t so much about the final destination that we ultimately care about – it’s a given that they’ll always find the macguffin they’re after – it’s about the journey, the inherent fun there is to be had in uncovering hidden-in-plain-sight clues along the way. Uncharted‘s story is one that breaks no new ground, and it seems in many ways screenwriters Rafe Lee Judkins (TV’s The Wheel of Time), Art Marcum (Iron Man) and Matt Holloway (Men In Black: International) were aware of this, allowing the film to hang together off the back-and-forth between Wahlberg and Holland, something that suitably lands.
Of course being an action film means there has to be just that – action. And knowing that audiences are now all too ready to accept gravity-defying, belief-suspended set-pieces, Fleischer has crafted some ridiculously entertaining spectacles within that more than owe their execution to the gradual insanity of the Fast & Furious series; the climactic sequence which features pirate ships being carried over oceans and throughout island structures by attached helicopters is truly a wild ride.
Though there’s the occasional fan-service moment, most of Uncharted succeeds as being its own product, something that’s truly surprising when it comes to the realms of the video game feature. The wheel is in no danger of being reinvented, and, again, this feels like a product designed to appeal to the masses rather than specific game players, but as a film coming out the other end of both a pandemic and over a decade of production woes, you could do a lot worse. Yes, you could do better, but as a YA-adjacent Dan Brown-inspired affair, Uncharted tracks enough ground to keep us on Wahlberg and Holland’s tail.
Uncharted is now screening in Australian theatres.