The success of Sonic the Hedgehog aside, the legacy of videogame adaptations is best left forgotten. For every critically savaged entry that held its own (Tomb Raider and Mortal Kombat at least made some money), a slew of unheeded cautionary tales rests at the bottom of streaming queues and dollar-store DVD bins (Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon have some nostalgic value; Warcraft never will). When Uncharted debuted in mid-February to strong box-office and became the only non-sequel to top the charts in half a year, Sony brass immediately declared it the studio’s next showpony franchise. Based on the 2007 PlayStation game, the film features Spider-Man’s Tom Holland as Nathan Drake–descendant of the famous explorer Sir Francis–and Mark Wahlberg as the lonewolf conman Victor “Sully” Sullivan. With an A-list cast, Uncharted had the chance to shake the videogame stigma, but the unfortunate result is a competent yet forgettable global treasure hunt that pales in comparison to the movies that inspired it.
Reeling from his amateur-explorer older brother’s abandonment, Nate spends his days tending bar and using his position behind the counter to locate marks for his pickpocket side hustle. But when Sully swaggers in with talk of Ferdinand Magellan’s abandoned ships and the gold booty contained within, he picks up the mantle of his famous forebearers. As Sully’s reluctant partner, Nate vies for the gold against a host of competition, including Spanish industrial magnate Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), the mercenary Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), and Sully’s sometime frenemy Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali).
Holland, Wahlberg, and Banderas have globe-trotting good time with their roles while still leaving space for Ali and Gabrielle to jockey for their blockbuster street cred. However, Uncharted’s celebrity presence also leads to a sense of dissonance that hinders the film from establishing its own identity. Holland plays Nate without deviating much from his wonderment-prone turn as Peter Parker, making the character’s dubious sense of ethics difficult to swallow. Likewise, Wahlberg’s reputation as either the the tough guy fighting to suppress his violent tendencies in films like The Departed, The Fighter, and Daddy’s Home or the lunkhead who somehow makes good in Boogie Nights and Ted, doesn’t gel with Sully’s conman suave. Though both phenomenal actors, neither Holland nor Wahlberg possess the natural above-it-all charm and incorrigible scoundrel tendencies George Clooney and Brad Pitt brought to the Ocean’s franchise that Uncharted tries so hard to emulate.
However, the film’s greatest weakness is not its burning desire to channel Danny Ocean’s exploits, but its waffling mishmash of allusions to other properties that ultimately betray the film as little more than warmed-over imitation. The constant backstabbimg and lack of trust among Nate, Sully, and Chloe comes straight from Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” while sacrificing medieval bawdiness for maudlin moral instruction. Likewise, the characters all owe a debt to Indiana Jones but go through the motions since they lack Harrison Ford’s world-weariness and sardonic wit. Banderas’s turn proves the lifeblood of the movie, but his The Godfather-lite family drama hamstrings its impact. Considering director Ruben Fleischer’s track record of successful pop-culture pastiche and self-deprecating comedy in films like Venom and Zombieland, Uncharted’s try hard attempts at punching up seem all the more bizarre.
Despite its status as a pale imitator, Uncharted has enough Holland-Wahlberg banter and inventive action sequences to make it worth a watch. Renaissance ships fly as they are pummeled with bullets. Holland jumps out of a plane without a parachute as classic cars fall around him. It’s all good enough for a weeknight diversion, but a modest start in franchise building much in need of some big-screen gravitas.
Now playing in theatres.