Since its 2007 release, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series has honoured three generations of PlayStation consoles with its preeminent fable. The quartet of video games follows treasure-hunter Nathan Drake, accompanied by mentor Victor Sully and reporter Elena Fisher, as he quests for ancient treasures and mysteries across the world. Uncharted is revered in every aspect of its composition, setting unrealistically high standards for any related media to come.
While the fourth game (Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) seemed to wrap up the series for good in 2016, the Feb. 18 release of the Uncharted movie brought Nathan Drake back to the screen—albeit this time, the silver one. Basing my judgment off the previous terrible movie adaptations of some of the most iconic video games, I issued a self-consolatory sigh and convinced myself to watch the movie without expectations.
The story introduces a much younger Drake (Tom Holland), a confident and talented bartender whose side-hustles include, but are not limited to, pickpocketing and retelling conveniently relevant historical facts—oftentimes simultaneously. A descendant of the notorious explorer Sir Francis Drake, the younger Drake’s seemingly ordinary life takes a sudden turn toward an inescapable destiny when Mark Wahlberg’s Sully requires his assistance in tracking down an ancient treasure.
Before going any further into the review, however—and on the topic of Sir Francis Drake—it is important to acknowledge the romanticization of exploration present throughout the Uncharted franchise. The asymmetry in power between the explorer and the area explored makes the latter a mere fascinating object of study for the former. This “Orientalization” of the landscape subdues local autonomy over its own peoples and cultures, providing the explorer with free-reigned ownership of historical artifacts.
The movie follows a simplistic storyline that is predictable to anyone well-versed with the Uncharted games. However, the high production value and star-studded cast offset that weakness, delivering a final product that far outshines the script. Effortless camerawork complements the over-the-top, video-game-esque action. There are frequent and delightful references to the games, such as visual puzzles, occasional stealth (it isn’t Uncharted without massive crates you can hide behind, after all), and ledge-grabbing parkour that only Nathan Drake could execute.
That being said, Uncharted has a few inherent flaws in need of immediate acknowledgement.
For one, the characterization takes a serious backseat to the action. Nate’s brother, for example, is introduced at the beginning for only a few minutes, yet the viewer is expected to form a sympathetic bond with him. This is virtually impossible, considering the only personality traits divulged to us are that he steals things and likes to disappear without explanation. Holland and Wahlberg’s chemistry pays homage to Drake and Sully’s immutable dynamic, wherein one is but the extension of the other on every quest. However, while this is reflected from the source material, it is a bit too smooth at times. They form a bond within minutes of knowing each other, making for humorous quips that seem a little ill-fitting for near complete strangers.
Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) is the run-of-the-mill villain, providing the unidimensional “bad guy” without a purpose. This boundless immorality caricatures his personality, reducing the impact that could have been dealt had he been a more polished, well-developed antagonist.
At times, the story seems unsure of its own characters’ motives. This confuses viewers, as they question their sympathies with characters who make arbitrary decisions fuelled by unjustified motivations. Most characters go through little to no development over the course of the movie, and when they do, it is often abrupt and clumsy.
When it comes to movies based on video games, historical precedent painted a grim picture for Uncharted far before its release. Critics and audiences alike circled like vultures, waiting to tear it apart. And quite frankly, most did. However, this movie sets an optimistic scope—not only for future installments within the franchise, but for movies based on video games in general. To synthesize well-known and loved faces in a production of such immense magnitude showcases a hopeful mainstreaming of video game storylines—a bank which holds an ocean of hidden treasures, and then some.