Movie review: «Uncharted» not as bad as expected

Movie review: «Uncharted» not as bad as expected

Luca Fontana
Zurich, on 16.02.2022

It’s a project that was «only» 14 years in the making: «Uncharted». The film based on the eponymous video game series aims to please with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg in the leading roles. And it does! Much to my surprise.

Nobody dared to hope for this anymore. Not after several postponements and five directors throwing in the towel. But good things come to those who wait. Already back in 2008, just one year after the first game about the treasure-seeking thug was released, video game developer Naughty Dog was planning a movie adaptation with Sony. Fast forward 14 years and the project, which was considered unfilmable for a while, has just become reality.

Uncharted has hit the silver screen. And it’s not half as bad as I thought it would be. Quite the opposite, in fact!

What’s Uncharted all about?

Nathan aka Nate and Sam Drake are more than mere orphans. They’re said to be descendants of the infamous pirate Sir Francis Drake. Unsurprisingly, both adolescents have not only developed a fondness for history but a penchant for disobeying rules, too. Such as when they break into a museum but get caught. Sam, the older of the two, must face the consequences and is forced to leave the home where they both live. Without Nate.

Years later, Nate (played by Tom Holland) is working as a bartender in New York. He also happens to be an exceptionally good thief. At least until he crosses paths with an even more talented one: Victor «Sully» Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). Not only does he want to hire Nate for his next big coup, he also seems to know an awful lot about his past. And his brother. But how? It’s a mystery. A mystery Nate can’t resist.

This is where the adventure begins.

The emancipation of a movie

This is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating game adaptations of the last few years. After all, from the get-go Uncharted was designed to feel less like a game and more like an interactive blockbuster movie. Time and time again, Nathan Drake ends up having to perform some kind of insane stunt that would put Indiana Jones to shame. Getting out safely has less to do with gameplay and more to do with jaw-dropping production – players only need to occasionally press buttons during these cutscenes.

It’s a successful concept that spawned three sequels and several remasters and spin-offs.

The fact that this from-the-screen-to-the-game-console concept was translated back to the screen is nothing short of ironic. As usual, there’s also that existential question that arises: if the game is already so cinematic, why bother making a movie?

Uncharted the movie dodges this question by deliberately emancipating itself from the game. At least in the sense that it doesn’t just retell the story from the games. Instead, it helps itself to some small, iconic elements and reinterprets them. Take the scene in the video linked above, in which Nate falls out of a plane along with the cargo. Except in the movie, Nate’s still young and on his first big adventure. That’s why you don’t hear him say «see ya!» but «sorry!» as he watches an enemy fall to his death.

Tom Holland plays a good Nathan Drake, but he takes some getting used to.
Tom Holland plays a good Nathan Drake, but he takes some getting used to.
Image: Sony Pictures Releasing Switzerland GmbH

It’s hard to say how this will affect viewers. It all depends on your point of view. Or on your expectations. What’s a fresh reinterpretation to some is just poor imitation to others. Personally, I’m on team reinterpretation. Not least because the filmmakers treated the source material with love and respect. There’s proof of this in shape of numerous hidden Easter Eggs that catch the eye of those who look carefully enough.

A textbook action-packed adventure movie

No doubt, the best bits in Uncharted are when Nate and Sully dig their way through caves, crypts and ancient churches – solving the same little puzzles that opened door after door, tomb after tomb and gate after gate. Just like they did in the games.

The only thing new about these scenes is the dynamic between the characters: Nate and Sully don’t trust each other one bit. Why? Because Nathan Drake is miles away from being the overconfident class clown he is in the games. This is because Tom Holland’s version of Nate is too young, small and slender. His voice is also higher than that of voice-acting legend Nolan North, who lends his more mature pitch to Nate in the games. At the same time, Mark Wahlberg’s interpretation of Sully is less gruff thug with a golden heart and more egocentric Thomas Crown-esque lone wolf.

Chloe Frazer, introduced in Uncharted 2 and played by Sophia Ali, is also part of the movie.
Chloe Frazer, introduced in Uncharted 2 and played by Sophia Ali, is also part of the movie.
Image: Sony Pictures Releasing Switzerland GmbH

I’ll admit, this sounds as if none of the original Uncharted is represented in the film. But that’s exactly what I meant above by «reinterpretation». Uncharted the movie begins what feels like years before the first game. Nate isn’t yet the person we know and love. Let alone his relationship with Sully, who’s something of a father figure to him in the games. This has all yet to come. At least that’s what the movie hints at. I think. Having said that, some character transformations happen so quickly that I’m not always sure what they mean.

That does have its advantages, though. The fact that the characters are somewhat removed from the original makes the movie feel more independent. Or rather less of a copy of the games. It’s a risk that was taken that not all Uncharted fans will appreciate. But just wait until Nate utters his famous «Oh, crap!» through gritted teeth when he’s in trouble, and that good old Uncharted feeling will come flooding back.

«Venom» director Ruben Fleischer and his team of moviemakers particularly hit the nail on the head when it comes to staging the action. Especially in the third part of the film, there are plenty of wonderfully ridiculous Nathan Drake moments that made the games so iconic. Add to that quick wit, nice camera work, a healthy amount of special effects and – and, at least, towards the end of the film – Nathan Drake’s theme from the games. And, ta-dah, the action spectacle is complete!

It’s precisely these moments that carry the film, in my opinion. They occasionally make me forget that Uncharted isn’t a new movie franchise but a game adaptation. Obviously, it hasn’t reinvented the adventure movie, but that doesn’t bother me. And, yes, Uncharted is just shallow entertainment that’s soon forgotten. But it’s solid entertainment.

Verdict: forget the game exists

Whether you enjoy the reinterpreted characters or not, you won’t get bored watching Uncharted. Especially in times of superhero-saturated cinema, a movie from the action and adventure genre feels like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this is another reason why I have so much love for Uncharted.

Searching for Magellan’s legendary treasure.
Searching for Magellan’s legendary treasure.
Image: Sony Pictures Releasing Switzerland GmbH

I mean, this movie has everything that makes up its genre. Starting with a MacGuffin, which is a legendary lost treasure in this film. Searching for it is driving our heroes halfway across the globe. Hot on their heels is an evil organisation that would sell their own grandmothers to get to the treasure first. Expect exotic locations and history lessons delivered by Nate while he’s solving puzzles as well as shootouts, laughs and all sorts of insane stunts.

Sure, none of this is innovative. However, it’s all highly entertaining. The sooner you manage to stop comparing the game to the movie, the sooner you’ll realise that Uncharted is somewhat shallow and forgettable, but a very enjoyable adventure movie. «Keep ‘em coming,» Sully says at one point in the film.

I couldn't agree more. Especially with an after-credit scene like that.


«Uncharted» is in cinemas from 17 February. Runtime: 116 minutes.

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I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.» 


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