The Uncharted video game series was a success story for Sony and gaming developer’s Naughty Dog. A warm, charming embrace for action/adventure fans that spawned a handful of sequels and spin offs. It even seemed that the franchise was destined to be adapted to the big screen. The issue with an adaptation however, is that the gaming franchise is already known for its cinematic style. Featuring stunning set-pieces, luscious landscapes and a strong roster of highly charismatic characters led by devoted explorer Nathan Drake. It put the players in control, but allowed its linear gameplay to show off its impeccable world building and sharp stage design.
Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Zombieland) adheres to the same reliable structure of its source material. Treading a familiar path that the Indiana Jones movies took, and breathes elements of Nicholas Cage’s National Treasure series or even Tomb Raider, which has also received the video game – movie treatment. Briskly hopping from one scenario to the next, jet setting the world from continent to continent, one intriguing puzzle after another, and being sent on a wild goose chase to track down some centuries old hidden treasure. In this instance the long lost treasure of Magellan, that hasn’t been reclaimed for over 500 years.
Quick-witted street smart Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a New York city bartender, who dabbles in the act of petty thievery with his pickpocketing skills, which we are to believe he learned to do from a young age while living in an orphanage with his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow). His latest lift is noticed by a grizzled, older figure named Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) or as he’s better known, ‘Sully’. Drake and Sully soon create a bond, and discuss their plans to recover Magellan’s missing millions, before it reaches the hands of the wrong people. In this case smooth talking businessman, Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his bodyguard for hire Braddock (Tati Gabrielle).
Whilst the story itself is ‘unique’ to that of the game series, elements of its plot and key structure massively draws inspiration from the games. Even whole segments are stripped and adapted straight from the source material but with slight narrative changes to help create its own identity. Fans of the series will easily be able to pick out what’s new and what seems familiar though, as it blends elements from all of the key entries within one of Playstation’s most profitable projects.
Whilst the casting choices were immediately met with concern, especially with who was playing the two leads, a huge part of what works with Ruben Fleischer’s direction is precisely that. Holland and Wahlberg’s odd father/son relationship leads to plenty of comedic moments, with their constant back and forth banter being a highlight. It can make you roll your eyes as much as crack a chuckle, but when it does work, Fleischer’s flick is made all the better for it. Sadly Banderas’ baddie is a classic cardboard cut out for the genre. Devilishly smart and rich, but always steps behind his competitors, even in the script department. With Tati Gabrielle’s Braddock feeling neither a real strength or weakness as many of the genre tropes also fall on her performance.
Another favourite from the series who makes an appearance is Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), whose inclusion feels needed to help bolster the movie’s predictable plot and generic action heavy approach.
Video games have been breaking into the movie industry for years, with popular demand refusing to decrease despite negative results. Finding that bridge between faithful adaptation but reasonable cause to adapt what’s already been done seems like a challenge most filmmakers have failed to achieve. Uncharted certainly doesn’t crack the code for what an adaptation should be, but its desire to draw inspiration from its flavourful source material, which culminates in a celebration of what it’s adapting, is what makes this such a surprising treat.
The plot isn’t a distinctive departure from the action/adventure genre but it knows how to have fun with it. The charisma of Holland and Wahlberg seeps through the cracks within its narrative, and the action sequences that are on offer echo the chaotic and frantic pace of which the games were able to do time and time again.