I really wanted to like this movie. The video game franchise upon which it’s built is terrific, Tom Holland, our hero, is charismatic and entertaining, and I love globe-trotting action films with a hint of history in the vein of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. But the sad reality is that popular action film director Ruben Fleischer just doesn’t deliver. The industry has a running joke about how big screen video game adaptations are cursed and it’s hard not to wonder if that’s what doomed Uncharted from the start.
Uncharted is a treasure hunt, a quest for fabled Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s lost gold, reputed to be worth billions of dollars. Was it buried at the terminus of his circumnavigation adventure in Seville? Or was it hidden at the Philipines, his last known port of call prior to the great trek around the Cape of Good Hope and back to Spain? Young orphan adventures Sam Drake (Rudy Pankow) and Nate (Tiernan Jones) aim to find out, until Sam ducks out the window just ahead of the police arresting him for breaking into a museum. Fifteen years later and Nate (now Tom Holland) has become a bit of a rogue, tending bar at a trendy Manhattan nightclub while occasionally indulging in a bit of theft. He’s going nowhere fast, and when the mysterious Victor (Mark Wahlberg) invites him to join a a quest to recover Magellan’s lost treasure, Nate can’t resist.
Their first goal: Acquire a beautiful 16th Century gold crucifix that Victor believes is a key to unlock the gate to the treasure, hidden somewhere in Seville after all these centuries. Unfortunately, Spanish scion and wealthy bad guy Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) is also eager to get his hands on the crucifix. This leads to the first great action sequence in the movie where we also meet Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), The Scotsman (Steven Waddington), and Hugo (Pingi Moli), who serve as Moncada’s henchmen. The auction house heist is one of the best action scenes in the film, but once it’s over, Uncharted gets back to one-dimensional character exposition, mostly between Nate and Victor. This would be fine if there was an iota of chemistry between the two but neither really digs into their role so it’s more like a table reading than a scene from an action film.
But that’s one of the great problems with the overall film: None of the actors actually deliver an acceptable performance, from Holland, who seems to be a one-note actor with no emotional depth at all, to Banderas, who can absolutely be a menacing antagonist but is as bland as last week’s soup. The inevitable love interest is between young Australian adventurer Chloe (Sophia Ali) and Nate, but these two actors also have zero chemistry on screen, leaving us viewers to shrug and wonder what either sees in the other at all.
Then again, Uncharted is a film based on a video game. The game is characterized by lots of complex and interesting puzzles with an occasional cut scene, a ratio of 90% adventure, 10% backstory. The film reverses this formula and it just doesn’t pay off. Not one character on screen is interesting or believable and while the action stunts are terrific, there are too few of them: the auction, the Seville chase, the plane jump, and the pirate ship account for almost all of the action in the film. They’re really good, entertaining and exciting sequences, but that’s only a small percentage of the film’s screen time. Instead, we end up suffering through banal dialog, unbelievable sets, continuity hiccups, and narrative leaps.
After seeing this film, I marvel at what an excellent fit Tom Holland is for the teenage smart-alek Spider-Man in the Marvel universe. It’s exactly his on-screen presence and it works beautifully in that film series. But for Uncharted it’s the wrong character, he has the wrong physique (really? He can continually take out hulking thugs The Scotsman and Hugo? There’s disbelief and then there’s just sheer disconnect from the audience.
Then there’s the soundtrack. Sony hired composed Raman Djawadi for the accompanying music, but time and again we got to hear the first half-dozen bars of a new track just to have it replaced by the scene’s sound effects or dialog. Djawadi did the soundtrack to Game of Thrones, Westworld, Iron Man, and so many other great movies and shows, why hire him if you don’t actually utilize his compositions?
Otherwise, the production itself was solid, with very good CG during the action scenes and frequent dark alleys and basement dive bars. What I wish is that a different director had helmed this and forced better performances out of the talented cast, creating a film that could have pulled us in and served asn the launching off point for the next Indiana Jones-like franchise. Unfortunately, that’s not Uncharted.