Without exaggeration, we have been writing Uncharted stories on CinemaBlend for a decade. The extremely popular video game franchise begs to be adapted into an Indiana Jones-esque swashbuckler. Hell, the game itself is so cinematic, any director would only have to follow the blueprint laid out by the designers at Naughty Dog to produce just a modest hit. But for reasons unknown, numerous directors taking shots at mounting Uncharted for Sony Pictures came and went, and the seemingly sure-fire entertainer languished in development hell until the studio’s current lucky charm, Tom Holland, agreed to step into the lead role.
Because of the age difference between the current on-screen Spider-Man and Uncharted’s primary hero, Nathan Drake, this first movie is refashioned as a prequel, or early chapter, in the saga of the treasure hunter and his seasoned partner, Sully (Mark Wahlberg). This leads to a lot of narrative background information being mapped out in the movie’s first half. But once Uncharted settles into its treasure-seeking groove, the movie finds its footing, leading to a thrilling third act and the promise of a new successful franchise for Holland and Wahlberg).
Tom Holland is good as Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, but not great.
As someone who religiously played the Uncharted games on my Sony Playstation, I had an idea in my mind of who should play Drake on screen. Firefly fan fave Nathan Fillion, often associated with the part, fit the bill. I even understood the casting of Mark Wahlberg in the Nate role when directors like David O. Russell (The Fighter) circled the project. Because the unshakable reality is that Tom Holland, while gifted and charismatic, is too young to play Drake in the first Uncharted movie. The narrative in the games eventually gets to a point where flashbacks allow one to play as teenage Drake, and I’m sure the majority of players would tell you that the side missions with Kid Drake felt like forced detours we had to endure to get back to the main action. Uncharted has a little bit of that feel as Holland gets used to being Drake, and we get used to seeing him as Drake.
This means audience members who have no history with the game, and just want to see Tom Holland doing his thing, will have less issue with his casting. Because when it comes down to the physicality and the stunt work that accompanies Nathan Drake’s adventures, Holland brings his full skillset to the table. Uncharted director Ruben Fleischer creates as-practical-as-possible set pieces, and it’s clearly Holland doing the stunts, which is admirable once you see what they require. The fresh-faced 25 year old doesn’t convey the scrappy toughness of Drake (or even Indiana Jones, the inspiration for Drake). But he shows enough to prove it’s a role he can grow into.
The action in Uncharted is original and inspired.
Uncharted is a popular video game because the gameplay puts Drake (and by extension, the player) into scenarios they’ve never seen in a game before. Drake will find himself in a train car that’s dangling off of a cliff, and has to deduce the only possible way out. It’s pulse-racing… and if you can’t replicate that adrenaline rush on the screen, then why are you even bothering?
The second and third acts of Ruben Fleischer’s move, though, ramp up to the levels of action that the Uncharted game delivered. Two of the movie’s most memorable set pieces were seen in the trailer, one involving crates falling from a plane and the other involving pirate ships being carried by helicopters. The photography and fight choreography in these sequences is stunning, and warrant the bump to an IMAX screening if you are checking Uncharted out at all. It’s in these moments that Holland earns his keep through the physical nature of Drake, but credit goes to screenwriters Art Marcum and Matt Holloway for dreaming up these set pieces, as well as to Flesicher and his team for executing them.
Uncharted is a solid start for a new franchise.
Without giving away any plot details, Uncharted leaves plenty of plot threads that point to the promise of at least one sequel, so long as this first movie finds an audience. Again, those who played all of the Uncharted games will be able to guess some of the places that sequels to this movie can and will go. And when I got to the end of Fleischer’s movie, I found I wanted to continue the narrative, and follow Nate (Holland) and Sully (Wahlberg) on their next quest. The two men might not be the most obvious choices for these recognizable characters, but accept that alteration and the fun of this video game adaptation will carry you through a worthy big-screen adventure.