Uncharted is a bland, National Treasure-esque mess of CGI and hackneyed globe-trotter tropes.
Uncharted is the umpteenth attempt by Hollywood to turn a globally popular video game into a possible blockbuster franchise. Confession time: this critic has never played a single entry in the wildly beloved PlayStation series, so those searching for comparisons or questions of faithfulness in regards to the source material should look elsewhere. As for the film, it’s a wholly derivative affair, yet another riff on Indiana Jones in which a thrill-seeking treasure hunter travels the globe searching for some long-lost fortune, playing fast and loose with historical accuracy in a vain attempt to thrill audience members who might have heard a name like Magellan before but know nothing else of the famed Portuguese explorer. Writers Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, and Rafe Judkins have cobbled together a tale that plays like a particularly tawdry — and wholly inaccurate — Wikipedia entry in which Magellan’s sailing crew discovered a cache of gold valued at billions of dollars, which naturally went missing along with the ships themselves. There’s a lot of talk here about how Magellan was a damn dirty liar who never actually sailed around the world, wussing out and dying before completing his journey, the remaining band of sailors known as “The Hateful 18” finishing it for him. In the world of Uncharted, everyone is a duplicitous charlatan looking out for themselves, the story of Magellan serving as…wait, let me look this up: foreshadowing. Cool.
Our strapping hero, Nathan Drake, discovers this hard truth for himself in a prologue of stunning stupidity, as we flashback 15 years and witness as Nathan is left alone at the Sad Boy Orphanage by his delinquent older brother Sam, who is in trouble with authorities for attempting to steal an authentic Magellan map that was seemingly located in a local high school hallway. Sam promises to come back for his brother, but never does, so now adult Nathan (Tom Holland) works as a bartender at an upscale club and steals stuff from his customers, because apparently that is just what jaded orphans do. Enter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a professional thief who worked with Sam and recruits Nathan to help him find Magellan’s lost treasure. What unspools is your basic globe-trotting adventure in which elaborate heists are performed, brain-teasing puzzles are solved, asses are kicked, and crosses are doubled and tripled. While the Indiana Jones comparisons are indeed superficially apt, Uncharted has more in common with the likes of The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure by virtue of its boneheadedness, an affair that mistakes grade-school historical knowledge and urban legend for cleverness. The puzzles Nathan must solve are January-era Wordle-level simple, with the final clue so obvious that Nathan’s inability to grasp it makes the viewer wonder if a previous traumatic brain injury might be to blame.
Director Ruben Fleischer keeps things moving at a brisk enough clip, but offers none of the visual inventiveness glimpsed in such past films as Zombieland; this is anonymous, big-budget, work-for-hire, Venom-mode. The majority of the action scenes are a collection of zeros and ones that hold no real weight simply because they are so obviously, distractingly fake. A few moments of hand-to-hand combat are so frenetically cut together that it’s nearly impossible to make heads or tales of the action itself, a trend that’s becoming unfortunately par for the course for these types of films. Holland and Wahlberg, meanwhile, have zero chemistry, with Wahlberg tuned directly to “phoning it in.” And it doesn’t help that the “jokes” here are merely groan-inducing, or that the punchlines are allowed to linger for several beats too long, under the mistaken belief that audiences may need a moment to regain their composure from laughter that never comes.
The biggest problem, however, lies with Holland, a leading man who has proved to be in possession of a certain charisma, but who is simply too bland to carry such a bloated production on his muscular shoulders. Something like the aforementioned National Treasure succeeds to the degree that it does, which is more often than it should, thanks to the ineffable oddness of star Nicolas Cage, who is self-aware enough to understand the trash heap he’s wading in and decides to bring a little something-something to the table. Holland, meanwhile, just seems happy to be working in a film that isn’t Spider-Man, but one which ironically feels even more soulless and manufactured than that beloved Marvel property. At least there’s an extended fight scene set in a Papa John’s in the middle of Barcelona to goose things a bit, a fever dream-y detour in the middle of the narrative morass. Uncharted predictably leaves the door open for a sequel, a surprising development only in that it feels like nearly every person both in front of and behind the camera participated purely out of contractual obligation. If this is what the first entry looks like, God help us all.