With 2022 set to be the year of big-budget video game adaptations for both movie studios and streaming services – with the Sonic the Hedgehog sequel, Paramount+ Halo series and the HBO The Last of Us series all proving highly anticipated IPs – Sony Pictures Entertainment are hedging their bets on one of their biggest game franchises.
Developed by studio Naughty Dog, Uncharted is one of the most loved and successful Playstation games to date, with the latest instalment – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – reportedly hitting over 15 million individual copies sold. Despite the success of the games, the journey to the big screen hasn’t always been plane sailing, with Hollywood attempting to adapt the series for roughly 15 years. The film entered development back in 2008, with multiple directors and stars attached to the project, including Nathan Fillion, Zachery Levi, Ryan Reynolds, Jensen Ackles and even Mark Wahlberg all rumoured for the role of lead Nathan Drake. However, it wasn’t until Tom Holland pitched a young Bond film to Sony Pictures that he was consequently offered the role, finally propelling the live-action origin project to fruition.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Uncharted centres on young bartender Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake (Tom Holland) as he’s recruited by Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) for a heist job. Tasked to retrieve an ancient artefact from an auction linked to explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his lost treasure, the pair quickly find themselves embroiled in a global race against time, with the ruthless Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his minions hot on their heels. With numerous clues to decipher linking to his long-lost brother Sam (Rudy Pankow), Nate might just find the answers – and riches – he’s been searching for.
With the ‘curse’ of live-action game adaptations looming, fans of the beloved series have been waiting with bated breath since the first-look images and trailers were released. However, unlike the most recent Tomb Raider adaption, Fleischer sticks closely to the source material, with the essence of the game series woven throughout the story beats and action set-pieces. Acting as an origins tale, the film opens with a flashback of the hero and his brother in their younger years at the orphanage, tapping predominantly into the Young Drake storyline from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
Launched with the aim of setting up a larger franchise, the Venom director does well to establish the universe with a real sense of adventure, as you’re swept along on a globe-trotting treasure hunt filled with ancient maps, clues and booby traps aplenty. For the most part, it’s a fun popcorn blockbuster which ticks all the action-adventure boxes, with a sentimental story of found family at its core. However, just as the film hits its stride with an impressive hidden tunnel and chase sequence, Fleischer forgoes this more Indiana Jones inspired approach in favour of a more bombastic CGI fest, rushing from one clue to the next in order to reach the bonkers Fast and the Furious-esque finale. Unfortunately this results in a disappointingly clunky and uneven affair, particularly following a questionable development.
Thankfully the charismatic central partnership of Holland and Wahlberg helps steer the ship throughout the more bumpy moments. While Holland isn’t quite the happy-go-lucky Nathan Drake we all know and love yet, there’s plenty of nods to the adventurer – including his wardrobe (and signature brown shoulder holsters), his little “oh crap” moment before being hit by a car, along with his many impressive slides and physical gymnastic flair throughout the chase sequences. Wahlberg is pretty much playing himself, constantly bickering with his younger partner, however his character is afforded slightly more growth throughout. On villainous duties is Banderas, who is seems to be having a blast but is surprisingly underused, while Tati Gabrielle excels in the more physical action sequences. However, the weak link is Sophia Ali as fellow treasure hunter Chloe Frazer, who’s questionable accent really is all over the place throughout.
As previously mentioned, there’s plenty of entertaining fight sequences and action set pieces for action-adventure fans to enjoy, which also pay tribute to the source material. The film’s big action scene – a jump-and-fight segment unravelling midair amid cargo falling out of an airplane – is pulled straight from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. While the scope and scale of this scene is undeniably impressive, the visual effects are unfortunately so obvious that it feels lifted from Hardcore Henry, overtly propelling you into the action in a first-person type sequence.
For those missing globe-trotting adventures, there’s plenty of beautiful locations featured, filmed predominantly in Spain. Barcelona – particularly Palau de Nacional and La Sagrada Familia – feature heavily, along with the Catalan town of Lloret de Mar which was transformed for the Southeast Asia sequences. Unfortunately composer Ramin Djawadi potentially has his first misfire here, with a score that’s so overtly intrusive and generic – although Nate’s theme is the main highlight.
With plenty of action-adventure moments and a great chemistry between Holland and Wahlberg – but also clunky world-building and dodgy visual effects – there’s just enough for fans of the games to enjoy in Uncharted. Fleischer succeeds in doing what he set out to do – creating a fun popcorn blockbuster which lays the foundations for more – but whether it has the legs to launch a fully fledged franchise is another question.