Uncharted opens with a terrific action scene in mid-air, spiked with signature Tom Holland humor and agility. It was even more exciting for me, because I saw it in the 4DX screening offered at YesPlanet Rishon, and the movement of my chair really did enhance the feeling of being right up there in the midst of it all (more on that later). The film, directed by Ruben Fleischer, is an adaptation of the eponymous PlayStation video game that features adventurer Nathan Drake. It’s a fun ride, and there’s a cool cameo for gamers to enjoy, but it is not quite the film I had hoped it would be.
The film’s narrative is an origin story for the PlayStation game, with Tom Holland portraying a young Nathan Drake. A descendant of Sir Francis Drake, he grows up in an orphanage with his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow). Nate looks up to Sam, who regales him with tales of their pirate ancestry and the great explorers of the past, who sailed the world seeking treasure. Separated in childhood by a dramatic event, Nate’s only connection to his long-lost brother is through the postcards Sam sends from exotic locations. Young Nate learns to rely on his wits and agility, growing up to become a bartender, smooth-talker, and pickpocket. Treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) recruits him to locate the lost gold of Magellan. Obviously, they are not the only ones interested in the treasure, and there is a lively supporting cast that comes into play, including Antonio Banderas as Santiago Moncada, scion of a wealthy family once betrayed by Magellan, and is now out to reclaim what he feels is rightfully his. It also turns out that Sully has another partner, the alluring and capable Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali). A past partner turned rival emerges in Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who is now working for Moncada. And they all want the gold.
Holland is fun as Nate, at once clever and yet retaining an aura of innocence. He even brings some nuance to his performance, as when he tries to bluff his way through a conversation with Moncada at an elegant auction, yet his eyes reveal his tension. However, the chemistry between the Nate and Sully never really takes off, the eventual bonding between the two is scripted, yet not convincing. Wahlberg seems rather bland in this role. In moments that would appear to require more emotional depth – it’s just not there. The rogue, devil-may-care, tough guy character is always more appealing when there’s a glimpse of his vulnerabilities.
In contrast, the two supporting actors – Ali and Gabrielle – are vivid, powerful, and fun to watch. There’s palpable tension between Nate and Chloe (Ali), her open hostility and Nate’s complicated suspicion and attraction make their reluctant collaboration more interesting. They also have a terrific chase scene together. Jo Braddock (Gabrielle) exudes mystery and dominates the screen whenever she appears, yet I felt that both female characters were trapped in the over-familiar trope of “the beautiful woman who cannot be trusted.”
Uncharted has had a long production history, first going into development in 2008. It went through several changes of directors before Ruben Fleischer took the helm in 2020, and several actors were considered for the role of Nate Drake. Mark Wahlberg was once a candidate, but as time went by, he aged out of the role and became the mentor rather than the young apprentice treasure hunter. I suspect that this long process and several changes of key creatives contributed to make this film less than it might have been. There’s even a small moment that felt like a continuity hiccup to me when Nate guzzles down a glass of wine as if it was cheap beer, and Sully instructs him to savor it – odd behavior for someone who was mixing drinks as a bartender, Nate ought to know how to appreciate wine.
Uncharted is a very mainstream action/adventure film, yet there is no character development that might have elicited deeper engagement from the viewer, not much real suspense, and certainly no surprises. However, I did have a lot of fun watching it, and the 4DX experience at the cinema contributed enormously. Not recommended for the queasy, since the chairs do move, but the effects are meticulously planned and synchronized with the film to enhance the feeling of being in the midst of the action. The effects are felt throughout, some are subtle, and at other times – in the heavy action scenes – more rambunctious. It makes the experience of watching the film into a great ride, and perhaps that’s the best way to enjoy Uncharted.
Director: Ruben Fleischer; Screenplay: Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Jon Hanely Rosenberg, Mark D. Walker; Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung; Editing: Chris Lebenzon, Richard Pearson; Music: Ramin Djawadi; Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Nolan North