Movie Review: Uncharted

Video games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider proudly wear their Indiana Jones influences on their sleeves, taking players on globe-trotting adventures in search of lost treasures that see them facing off with various baddies in spectacularly cinematic sequences. This meant that it would only be a matter of time before things would come full circle and they would wind up being adapted for the big screen themselves. Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft has already led 4 films, with mixed results, but now it’s Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake’s turn.

While the movie opens with a snippet from a later, mid-air fight sequence, the story itself begins with the next scene, which sees a young Nathan (Tiernan Jones) and his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) getting caught trying to steal a treasure map from a museum. When Sam learns that he is about to be arrested, he flees, leaving Nate alone at the orphanage they were living in. There is no real reason why this wasn’t the first scene though, as seeing the tease of a later moment doesn’t really add anything to the movie. Were the writers concerned that we might mistake this for a family drama otherwise?

Anyway, we next flash forward to the present day, where we meet the grown-up Nathan (Tom Holland) working as a bartender in a trendy restaurant who also happens to be an expert at using sleight-of-hand to rob his customers. Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) approaches him with an offer to hunt for a massive fortune, and possibly also locate his long-lost brother. After turning him down, he goes looking for Victor and sees the same map that he and Sam had been trying to steal in his apartment, and after some hesitation, agrees to help with the expedition.

The map in question is a guide to the location of Magellan’s fictional lost cache of gold, which can be found somewhere in Spain with the aid of 2 “keys” shaped like ancient, bejeweled crosses. Victor already has one but will need Nathan’s help to obtain the other, which is about to be sold in a New York auction house. Of course, others are also on the hunt for the treasure, like the mega-wealthy Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who believes it rightfully belongs in his family and is there to bid on it, and the more ruthless Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who ostensibly seems to be working with him and always travels with a pair of vicious thugs. Things go south during the auction, but our heroes manage to escape with the cross and head off to Spain to solve the rest of the riddle. In Spain, they meet up with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who is holding on to the first key, but quickly proves herself to be just as slippery as everyone else Nathan encounters. She ultimately realizes that she won’t be able to figure things out on her own however and so agrees to work together.

Things from that point onward start out fairly ordinarily for the genre, with the trio puzzling out clues that lead them to secret tunnels and chambers that lead to further clues and so on, though said tunnels and chambers are often so easily visible from everyday locations that it is miraculous they had heretofore been undiscovered. At one point, after working their way through an old church and an underground nightclub, Nathan and Chloe are able to talk to Victor through a drainage grate in the street, making all of their effort up to that point feel incredibly unnecessary.

As the film carries on, the action takes on increasingly ludicrous proportions however. When we make our way back to the high-flying fight that was teased at the beginning, much of what Nathan is made to do feels a lot closer to the sort of action you would expect in a superhero movie rather than a theoretically more “grounded” actioner. It’s certainly still entertaining to watch, but some of the more egregiously physics-defying moments can be distracting. While even more ridiculous, the final fight featuring two ancient galleons being airlifted through rocky tropical islands is so spectacular to watch that it’s easier to enjoy on a purely entertaining level.

That aside, Holland makes for a charming Drake. He is obviously younger than the video game character, but framing this as an origin story helps to explain that issue away. He exhibits a good blend of cocky charisma and youthful innocence, and plays well off of Wahlberg’s Victor Sullivan. The action is always fun to watch and the banter in the slower moments is clever enough. If only the adventure itself felt a little more thought out, we might have had something really great here. As it is, it’s a good enough way to kill a few hours filled with characters that I look forward to seeing again, just try not to overthink it. ★★★


★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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