UNCHARTED Review - Does The Movie Manage To Live Up To Naughty Dog's Iconic Video Game Franchise?
Uncharted is tasked with adapting one of the most beloved video game franchises, but does it successfully do so? Hit the jump for ComicBookMovie.com's verdict on Ruben Fleischer's action blockbuster...
Uncharted is now playing in UK cinemas and arrives in the U.S. on February 18. Here's the ComicBookMovie.com verdict on the movie (be warned that some minor spoilers follow).
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released on the PlayStation 3 in 2007 and became an instant classic. From there, the Naughty Dog franchise continued reaching new heights with each subsequent instalment, delivering groundbreaking visuals and jaw-dropping moments we never knew were possible on consoles. Talk of a movie adaptation has persisted for as long as we can remember, no great surprise when Nathan Drake is a character with all the makings of a modern-day Indiana Jones. A number of filmmakers have attempted to take a crack at making it work on the big screen, but with lofty expectations from gamers and the expected challenges presented by adapting a video game, it’s only now that Nate and Sully are finally making their way to theaters. Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway’s Uncharted screenplay doesn’t quite manage to match the sort of storytelling quality Naughty Dog has become synonymous with, but it does capture the heart and soul of the games and characters, putting a fresh spin on this beloved franchise that’s bolstered by Venom director Ruben Fleischer’s exciting and well-shot action scenes.
As with any adaptation of a famous property, whether it’s Captain America: Civil War, Sonic the Hedgehog, or even Amazon’s recently released Reacher series, if you go in hoping for an exact copy of what you’ve seen on the page or on TV courtesy of your video game console, you’ll be disappointed. Uncharted isn’t a "faithful" adaptation of the games and definitely puts its own spin on key character relationships to better suit the story it’s telling. However, it arguably benefits from that, and whether it’s the mystery surrounding Nate’s brother, Sam, or the story of how Drake and Victor "Sully" Sullivan first met, the movie manages to deliver a new take on the material in a way that feels refreshing and energising. Mark Wahlberg is miscast as the game’s Sully, but watching this take on the character go from someone who only cares about the next score to putting that aside for Nate as he grows to care for him is immensely satisfying and successfully ensures the friendship that's always been so important to this franchise remains intact. Uncharted might not deliver that story exactly how fans of the games know it, but it gets there in a way that means you’ll care just as much about these characters as the ones you’ve been spending time with since 2007.
While it’s important to view Uncharted as its own thing, that’s particularly tricky when it comes to Nate. Nolan North inhabited that character and made him his own, leaving Tom Holland with big shoes to fill. Well, we couldn’t be happier to report that Holland was born to play Nathan Drake, with the Spider-Man: No Way Home star capturing the essence of the hero and delivering those "Oh crap!" moments with the sort of gusto and Nate-like panic you’d hope. All the while, the actor makes this character his own, proving there’s more to him than just Peter Parker and showing he’s got what it takes to be the lead in his own action movie franchise.
As noted, Wahlberg isn’t the Sully we all know and love, but as this character, the actor delivers a funny, sometimes goofy performance that means he matches Holland beat for beat, establishing an enjoyable back and forth that helps make the character shine. We’d have liked to see Uncharted embrace more elements of the Sully from the games as it’s easy to imagine Wahlberg doing an even better job of chewing scenery had he been chomping on a cigar and decked out in a Hawaiin shirt. Regardless, his performance is far from the disaster many predicted and we’re eagerly anticipating spending more time with him and Holland given the immense chemistry they display here. Unfortunately, Santiago Moncada, played by Antonio Banderas, is an entirely forgettable villain, but that’s ironically been something of an issue for the games over the years as well (how many of that franchise’s bad guys can you name? Go on, we’ll wait...). He serves a purpose, though, and pushing Banderas aside to allow Tati Gabrielle to shine as Jo Braddock is no bad thing. Sophia Ali isn’t as big a weak link as Banderas, but the actress - who is a likeable, enjoyable presence as the enigmatic Chloe Frazer - doesn’t quite manage to hold her own against Holland and Wahlberg. In fairness, she’s not working with the strongest material, and Chloe far too often veers into being the clichéd femme fatale who the lead falls for but is inevitably betrayed or outsmarted by.
Aside from a few weaker elements, Uncharted boasts a strong story at its core, with plenty of surprises and action set pieces that will leave you in awe. Defying physics every bit as much as the games, these are pure popcorn entertainment and deliver some edge of your seat, thrilling moments. We’d have perhaps liked a little more gun-based action, but the fight scenes boast strong choreography and are balanced nicely with the sort of exploration of underground passages and secret catacombs it’s rare to see adapted so faithfully from the games to screen (take note, Tomb Raider). To get into nitpicking territory, there are a few cases of choppy editing, but cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung gives Uncharted a cinematic sheen that complements Fleischer’s direction in what ends up being arguably his best movie since Zombieland. The filmmaker went off the rails with Venom, righted the ship to some extent with Zombieland: Double Tap, and puts himself back on the map here by delivering a fan-pleasing action blockbuster that should be welcomed by gamers and non-gamers alike. A definite disappointment, however, is Ramin Djawadi’s score. It’s fine, but too often fades into the background, failing to deliver the sort of sweeping, epic music that would further elevate the action on screen.
Is Uncharted a perfect adaptation of the games? Not exactly, but it’s been clear for a while now that it wasn’t the plan to deliver a shot by shot remake of any of those with this movie. By spending so much time on the budding friendship between Nate and Sully and embracing the madcap action of the games - the entire plane sequence from the trailers is insane in all the right ways - this take captures enough of the magic of its source material to stand out as what we think could be one of 2022’s best action blockbusters. Throw in what proves to be an undeniably enjoyable hunt for treasure with hidden passageways beneath the streets of Barcelona and pirate ships full of gold, and this ends up being the sort of fun adventure movie Hollywood has been missing for a while now. We’re game for a sequel, and pleased to see another video game movie that doesn’t disappoint, but exceeds expectations.
The Uncharted games remain in a league of their own, but this movie captures their essence and delivers a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure with heaps of unexpected twists, full-throttle action, and another standout performance from Tom Holland.