‘Uncharted’ is comfortable treading through charted territory

Director Ruben Fleisher fails to mine gold out of rich source material


Official “Uncharted” poster

By Nic Roy, Collegian Correspondent

Even people without prior knowledge of the video game series may be aware of the controversy that “Uncharted” has caused before its release.

When the trailers released, fans were shocked at how miscast the two leads were and how the singular film seemed to be an amalgamation of the entire series’ plotlines. While fan outrage over adaptations is nothing new, it can usually be dismissed when accuracy is tossed aside in favor of an exciting direction. It seems that fans may be justified when it comes to “Uncharted.”

The film follows Nathan Drake (Tom Holland), a charming history buff and part time pick pocket. He is enlisted by Sully (Mark Wahlberg) to put his skills to use and help find a hidden treasure, one that has consumed Drake’s life since childhood. In fact, most characters in this movie are consumed by the desire to find the treasure hidden by the crew of the Magellan expedition decades ago. This includes villain Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), the last descendant of the family that funded that original expedition, and his hired mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle).

Just because the pairs are supposed to be working together does not mean they trust one another. At the end of the day, everyone wants the treasure for themselves. This should make for a tense watch as the viewer constantly tries to figure where the loyalties of this ensemble really lie. But “Uncharted” lacks any sort of dramatic tension as the priorities of director Ruben Fleisher seems to be focused elsewhere, particularly in capturing the vibe of most successful movies these days.

Between the casting of Holland as a character that was originally in his 30s, the constant stream of self-aware humor and the lack of visual flair, the only thing “Uncharted” is missing before becoming a canon entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a few Iron Man references. I mean, it even has two post-credit scenes.

It means that “Uncharted” is occasionally fun and rarely unwatchable, just never anything more than that. But who could blame Fleisher for trying to recreate the tone of the only kinds of movies people watch now, even if that means a refusal to give the source material praised for its cinematic qualities the respectful translation to screen it deserves?

Fleisher’s quest to find gold at the box office does not come without positives. Maybe Tom Holland shouldn’t be Nathan Drake, but if this is the “Uncharted” we’re getting, it’s a good thing he is. No one should be surprised that Holland can lead a blockbuster after his Spider-Man trilogy, but his leading man charm hasn’t worn off. His performance is not a carbon copy of his constantly anxious and hyper Peter Parker. Here, Holland can add a suave and more confident layer on top of the young energy all have come to love, making his Nathan Drake immensely watchable. He does not stun in the more emotional scenes, but he is what makes this movie achieve one of its only apparent goals, to be a slightly enjoyable romp. His character seems to be the only one with a heart for a good portion of the runtime, so whenever his star power manages to get “Uncharted” moving, a cut to other characters like Banderas’ Santiago will grind the film to a halt.

Besides Holland’s performance, the only other times the movie really grabs you are a few twists that, while surprising, would be a good deal more shocking if the characters involved had relationships built off more than banter alone.

The movie opens with its best set piece, as Holland falls out of a plane along with a string of large crates and a mercenary. It is one of the only scenes that feels high-stakes and epic in scope, but it’s cut away from to move back in time. When we eventually get back to this point in the timeline, the scene is redone to focus on additional supporting characters as well as Holland and it doesn’t play nearly as well. The two versions of this scene illustrate what works about this movie and what doesn’t. It works when it leans on Holland’s action star capabilities and creates exciting scenes in exotic locations for him to jump around in.

The movie fails when it tries to be a buddy cop movie between Holland and a lifeless Wahlberg, proceeding to rest the stakes of the film on this relationship that, as it’s presented, has very little depth and nothing to grasp onto. Drake and Sully may have a powerful relationship within the games, but here they are two bickering men forced to work together, which supports Fleisher’s goal of watering down this epic adventure saga into something you’ve seen before.

While it seems that Fleisher’s film has sequel ambitions, “Uncharted” was reconstructed from a quadrilogy’s worth of material into a standard action-adventure fare that will likely be forgotten before a second film even enters the production stage.

Nic Roy can be reached at [email protected].