The Playstation game series Uncharted was ahead of the curve in its attempt to emulate cinema, with cut scenes so detailed and so extensive, fans could make (and have made) YouTube compilations that run feature length. The long-gestating cinematic adaptation of the game – so long, in fact, that Mark Wahlberg switched roles from the younger lead to the older lead during its development – would have been better off trying to return the favour and emulate a video game. Director Ruben Fleischer has that sort of ambition in his history, having made a movie (Zombieland) whose best visual gags feel like cut scenes from the best zombie game you’ve ever played.


Too bad his take on Uncharted is as flat as flat can get. Even the big opening set piece – you know, the scene so exciting they push it to the front of the movie, even though it takes place two-thirds of the way through the narrative – doesn’t have the pizzazz Fleischer exuded effortlessly in Zombieland. As hero Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) falls from a plane while losing and regaining his grip on a bunch of cargo connected by ropes, while also fighting off a handful of minions, all we can think is how exciting this should be, but isn’t.

Uncharted is the second movie in the past four months to be honest about what it’s ripping off, following on the heels of Red Notice, which also name-checked Raiders of the Lost Ark. At least when one character asks another when they decided they wanted to be Indiana Jones, Uncharted has the distinction of having blazed a trail with this material in the video game world. The game took the readily identifiable milieu of searching for lost treasure and fighting off bad guys and gave gamers in the naughties something to dream themselves into. The only dreams here will occur if you fall asleep during the movie.

We learn in the film’s opening that Nate and his brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) consider themselves the ancestors of Sir Francis Drake, and feel they have inherited his thirst for exploration. In trying to steal a map that they believe will lead them to the lost gold of Ferdinand Magellan, the brothers are caught, with Sam forced to flee and leave his brother at the orphanage that has been raising them. Cut to 15 years later, when Nate’s thirst for exploration has been replaced by a thirst for alcohol, both drinking it and serving it, as he flips bottles in a fancy bar, while pickpocketing lesser treasures to keep paying the rent.

It’s here that he’s found by Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg), a shifty older acquaintance of his brother, who did find his way to the exploring racquet, sending cryptic post cards to Nate over the years. Sully believes Nate can help him assemble the archeological trinkets that will lead them to the hidden gold. After a perfunctory decline of the offer, Nate signs up for a globe-trotting adventure that will cross their paths with multiple femme fatales (played by Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle), not to mention an actual descendent of the family who funded Magellan’s travels, the rich and powerful Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who considers the treasure his birthright.


To illustrate this globe-trotting, Uncharted even uses the Raiders trick of showing a plane flying over a map along a dotted line to each destination – a trick Raiders certainly didn’t orginate either. The two films together are a reminder that the movies keep repackaging themselves for new generations, which would be all well and good if they were done with zest and panache. Uncharted isn’t. The film’s long road to the silver screen – it was originally a David O. Russell project, only a few years after the first game debuted in 2007 – feels like a metaphor for the creative wheel-spinning that has finally materialised in this film.

The casting was at least smart, in theory anyway. Holland might be today’s most popular actor in the 25 or younger age bracket (Holland is exactly 25), and his long current tenure as Spider-Man won’t steer parents wrong when their kids inevitably want to see this. The violence in this movie is almost entirely bloodless, with the one sort of hilarious exception of a character who gets his throat slit – hilarious because he dies instantly of the injury, even though the cut is so shallow that it looks like someone drew on his neck with a red Sharpie. So while Holland’s presence undoubtedly helps with ticket sales, this is not the charismatic young man who portrays Peter Parker. Holland can be likable in his sleep, but he’s not much more than that here.


Wahlberg really could have been the ace up the film’s sleeve, and the times it does find itself in the vicinity of being fun are largely due to his gregariousness and gift for wise-cracking. Here’s where game enthusiasts might nerd out a bit in their complaining, though, as the Sully from the game is a grizzled, white-haired SOB who truly feels like he’s been there and done that. Maybe some percentage of Wahlberg still wanted to play Nathan Drake, as at age 50 he doesn’t look that much less baby-faced than Holland.

Women need agency in a way they didn’t in 2007 – especially in the gaming world – but Uncharted falls down on that front as well. Neither Ali, as the good femme fatale, nor Gabrielle, as the bad femme fatale, make much of an impression. It might even be an actual representation deficit that both of the movie’s female characters double cross our heroes, not once, but multiple times.


Eventually you do get to that scene of Nathan Drake falling out of the plane, and it’s still the best set piece so far in the movie, even though it isn’t really very good. At least the film is somewhat redeemed by its final set piece, which involves two very different vehicles involved in the sort of relationship with one another that you’ve never seen before in a movie. Even that pales in comparison, though, to 15-year-old cut scenes whose characters are deep in the recesses of the uncanny valley. When a video game is writing better dialogue and story than a big Hollywood movie with a massive budget, it ain’t great.


Uncharted is currently playing in cinemas. 

4 / 10