Aw damn, we were getting so close…
Over the last couple of years, the quality of video game adaptations was looking like it was finally getting its act together after the chaotic evil of Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter. It’s been a long and winding road, but after muscling through the cartoonish and vapid posing of stuff like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the seemingly endless onslaught of Resident Evil sequels, the genre was starting to realise that maybe it should be making actual films, instead of over-edited, two hour music videos that talked down to its audience. However, as the quality slowly went up with ok entries like the newer Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed and Monster Hunter, inherent flaws meant not one has yet managed to smash through the breakaway wall of 4 – star rating. However, with 2020’s Sonic The Hedgehog stunning everybody by impressively not being shit (it’s actally pretty fun), it seemed that all video game movies needed for that last, final push into respectability is a hero to stand up and make that fateful jump into greatness.
I would of bet folding money that it would have been Nathan Drake.
Orphan Nathan Drake makes a living as a bartender while grifting and pick pocketing on the side as he constantly pines for his long long brother Sam who instilled in him a taste for adventure. One thing the brothers always banged in about when they were young was the legend of the fabled Magellan expedition (long story short: a fuck-ton of ancient gold is hidden somewhere) and Nate has been obsessed with it ever since.
Enter Victor “Sully” Sullivan, fortune hunter and possibly the most untrustworthy man alive who approaches Nathan with a daring proposal to aid him on his quest to find Magellan’s gold and get disgustingly rich while they’re at it. A partnership is formed that’s shakier than a pooping dog, but despite of (or maybe because of) the caustic banter, the two make a pretty good team as they traverse the globe armed with ornate keys and a clue-filled diary – but numerous obstacles lay in their path.
The first is Nate and Sully’s other partner, the fetching and fierce Chloe Frazier who, after having worked with Victor before, is just as entrusting and untrustworthy as he is despite the fact that Nathan seems to be falling for her. The other, and more pressing problem is the vicious team of mercenaries led by the ruthless Jo Braddock and assembled by Santiago Moncada, a man who believes the gold is his by birth right was will stop at nothing to claim it.
And so the race is on as wit, skill, luck and a fair bit of nifty parkour is employed to keep our trio of thieves one step ahead of this group of nastier, evil thieves – but even if they survive such scrapes as falling out a plane and fighting on airlifted galleons, can Nate, Sully and Chloe ever trust each other long enough to get the gold?
I’d like to point out that despite its issues with plot, tone, iffy greenscreen work and an utter disregard for physics that would make Fast & Furious choke on its Corona, Uncharted isn’t a bad movie – it’s just a bewilderingly flat one.
I’m not exactly sure how a movie fearuring the unfailingly likeable Tom Holland and the blunt charisma of Mark Wahlberg bickering and hanging out of planes can feel so plain and ordinary and it’s especially disappointing considering Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer had the same problem as the similarly bland Venom. Nothing really lands like it’s supposed to despite everyone obviously trying to make Uncharted be as entertaining as they can and once again, Hollywood shows off its determined obsession to give absolutely everything it can an origin story whether it demands it or not. So, instead of getting the Nathan Drake from the video games, we get Holland slowly becoming Nathan Drake while seguing frequently into uncertain, Peter Parker territory while the score makes a massive deal every time he does something recognizable to fans of the game.
To be fair, some of them are pretty cool with a cameo from original voice actor Nolan North being legitimately sweet and the mid-film set piece having Nathan negotiating his way from cargo containers dangling out the back of a plane is plucked straight from the games, but it’s here that we get our best example that Uncharted isn’t exactly firing all it’s bullets. The filmmakers choose to open the movie with a chunk of the action sequence (that riffs heavily off The Living Daylights) as a flash forward and then picks up the scene later when it pops up naturally in the story which has the effect of deflating the excitement in favour of having a big, spectacular opening. It’s also tough to suspend your belief when the movie insists on flaunting the laws gravity to an almost insulting degree – hey, I like far-fetched shit as much as the next guy, but having Drake casually kneeling on a car bonnet while having a conversation as it hurtles through the air at hundreds of miles an hour is a bit much, even for me. Similarly, the final battle where two huge ships are airlifted through the protruding rocks of the Philippines should be edge of your seat stuff, while while it’s far from boring, it’s oddly workmanlike too as some obvious visuals remove a fair amount of the implied risk.
It’s the same for everything else. Everything works in the film, it just doesn’t work particularly well. The back and forth between Holland and Wahlberg is fun, but it’s not particularly funny and all that inevitable tomb raiding is fairly substandard when stacked up against every previous example we seen thanks to Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and every time Nicholas Cage fancied stealing the Declaration Of Independence.
A pre-credits sequence (that’s actually in the trailer – classic Sony) hints that future Drake adventure will hue closer to the games (Sully’s moustache all but confirms it) so a sequel wouldn’t be the worst thing that might ever happen to movies, but if the series wants to search for gold as diligently as its characters it needs to tighten up some of those baggy areas, drop the unnecessary back story and just dive headlong into a full fledged action adventure that’ll finally put video game movies on the map.
Over to you, Sonic, I guess.