Uncharted review: Tom Holland leads big screen PlayStation adaptation

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It’s taken its time, but the first film based on the Uncharted videogames is finally here – and here’s our review of the movie.

The idea of swashbuckling has somewhat fallen out of favour in Hollywood. We’re a long way removed from Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn swinging swords around and it’s been decades since anybody cared about Captain Jack Sparrow and the other alumni of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. But my personal taste of adventure was satisfied recently by the unlikeliest of movies – a video game adaptation.

Uncharted – based on the Naughty Dog franchise of treasure-hunting PlayStation games – has had a turbulent and winding path to the big screen. At least seven directors have been attached at one time or another, with the project in some form of development as far back as 2008. But in 2020, Venom filmmaker Ruben Fleischer signed up to helm the movie for a 2021 release, with Tom Holland as protagonist Nathan Drake and Mark Wahlberg as his mentor – seasoned treasure pilferer Sully. COVID-19 put the kibosh on the initial filming plan but, a year later than initially scheduled, the movie is finally seeing the light of day.


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Plot-wise, there’s nothing here to break the mould. Sully tracks down Drake for help in finding the ultimate treasure hunter prize – a stash of billions of dollars in gold, previously sought by Ferdinand Magellan. Uber-rich businessman Moncada (Antonio Banderas) is also on the hunt for the lucrative bounty, with deadly mercenary Braddock (a brilliantly dangerous Tati Gabrielle) willing to do his dirty work.

While too many movies based on video games bog themselves down in dense lore and crowbarred fan service, Uncharted is a pleasantly pared-down piece of work. Rather than attempt to adapt every facet of the games’ stories or replicate the feeling of playing them – something cinema can never really hope to do – Fleischer is content to tell a simple, enjoyable action-adventure story. As it turns out, that might well be the secret to cracking the nut of making a video game film that actually works.

Of course, it helps to have one of Hollywood’s most dependable leading men on the marquee and Tom Holland breathes real life into Nathan Drake. We first meet him charming a young woman with his impressive salesman patter and bartending skills – before stealing her watch – and his charisma keeps the movie chugging along, even as it traffics in some slightly ropey CGI when it reaches for big action sequences in the final third. Banderas, meanwhile, hams it up as one of his typically enjoyable villains and British cinema stalwart Steven Waddington does stellar work as a comedy-accented Scottish henchman.

Certainly the movie could never be accused of subtlety, with Wahlberg’s brash Sully – who sometimes feels ported over from a different take on the material (and possibly was) – clearly positioned as an ersatz father figure for Nate and Sophia Ali’s Chloe Frazer serving as one of many underused elements seemingly introduced with one eye on franchise potential.

But Uncharted is at its best when it’s not worrying about being an adaptation or firing the starting pistol on a blockbuster series. When it embraces the potential to be silly and spectacular, it’s an absolute delight. A foot chase along the rooftops of Barcelona gets the pulse racing and a climactic skirmish involving pirate ships dials up the ludicrousness to absurd levels. This is often just a movie about attractive people in vests chasing after preposterous MacGuffins and solving intricate clues – and that feels like a throwback in the best and most entertaining way.

Uncharted has three credited screenwriters in the shape of Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, with two further scribes credited for assisting with the story. If that sounds like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, that’s certainly born out by the slightly muddled feel of the finished film. The tone lurches wildly throughout, with several of the most broadly comedic moments – particularly an awkward running gag about a cat – feeling as if they were randomly tacked on out of fear that the movie wasn’t funny enough. As entertaining as the film can be at its all-action best, it often feels as if it doesn’t have the confidence of its own convictions and hedges its bets in an attempt to be all things to all audiences.

It remains to be seen whether Uncharted will work with those who are more devoted fans of the games than I am but, from a purely cinematic perspective, it’s an enjoyable adaptation in the vein of the surprisingly entertaining Alicia Vikander-led take on Tomb Raider which surfaced in 2018. It’s further proof that Tom Holland is a rare example of that most valuable Hollywood commodity – a bona fide, old school movie star. Certainly Uncharted shows he can swashbuckle with the best of them.

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