Uncharted (Review): Takes Big Liberties But It’s an Entertaining Film

Uncharted is finally here, after a decade in development hell. But does it live up to the hype? And can it compare to the game series? Read on to find out…

Up top I’m gonna admit: I’m relatively new to the Uncharted video games. I’ve heard about them most of my life but never bothered to try ’em out… until recently that is. I managed to play through the original trilogy within the past year. Though I have yet to play the fourth. I liked the games but I’m not a super-fan. Though, as much as I try to judge this adaptation on its own merits, I can’t help but compare the story with its source material.

So what’s this thing about? Nathan Drake and his brother Sam (descendants of famed explorer, Sir Francis Drake) dream of finding lost treasures together. But Sam’s penchant for thievery lands him in trouble with the law, and he’s forced to abandon Nate at their orphanage. Though he promises to return for Nate one day. Fast forward 15 years: Nate meets Victor Sullivan, a former accomplice of Sam’s. “Sully” convinces Nate to help him uncover the Magellan’s expedition’s lost treasure. But a shady millionaire and his agents seek to beat them there!

Uncharted takes plenty of liberties with the story from the games. It’s far from a 1:1 adaptation and it’s gonna piss off purists. That much I can guarantee. But it got the formula close enough for this fan. This Uncharted feels like a prototype. And I’ll bet that was their goal, considering Sony aims to make a franchise. They wanted to make the first film in the series an origin story which might be accessible to people who have never played the games. It’s no mistake the story grows more distinctly Uncharted as it goes, pretty much coming into its full form by the ending.

The globe-trotting adventure calls to mind classic films like Indiana Jones, although Uncharted arguably has more in common with National Treasure. Hollywood rarely makes movies like this anymore. I’m happy to get a half-way decent emulation of an all-but-dead genre.

Nathan Drake (Holland) and Chloe Frazer (Ali) explore a creepy ruin

Uncharted is well-paced. I can’t think of any moments which I felt dragged. The run-time might be a tad too long, but barely. Uncharted manages its adequate pacing by striking a balance between its action scenes and its slower character-building (and exposition dump) scenes.

Come to think of it, Uncharted has a LOT of exposition dumps. It tends towards telling us things rather than showing. But the games are notorious for that quirk as well. And it didn’t bother me how Uncharted presented its plot information. The dialogue was entertaining enough to keep my attention.

This plot is surprisingly twisty and, dare I say, unpredictable. It certainly kept me guessing what would happen next (especially since some characterizations differed from the game’s interpretations). There were even some genuinely shocking moments!

Uncharted is not some heady movie with a deep message. But Uncharted knows what kind of movie it wants to be, and stays focused on its strengths. Action, adventure, and good entertainment value are the film’s goals, and Uncharted achieves its ambitions on all fronts.

Even better: the plot didn’t waste screen-time with pointless detours (like some half-baked romance plot). Uncharted‘s story is efficient and concentrated. Its momentum carries forward and wastes little time.

Tom Holland is charming as Nathan Drake. Though Holland is a relatively clean-cut interpretation of the character. The video-game Drake is, for all intents and purposes, a mass murderer. Holland doesn’t play the Drake who shoots up entire complexes full of guys. However, he solidly portrays Drake’s general character– namely his snarkiness and intellect. Those moments where he explains obscure historical facts to his allies screamed Nathan Drake!

And there were certainly plenty of clues for Drake to figure out (which I appreciated). Some of them were quite clever. They allowed Drake to spout out his encyclopedic knowledge on a variety of topics. Such intelligent moments allowed Drake to set himself apart from other action heroes from similar films. Usually these adventuring types are good fighters, or smart, but not both (except for odd ones like Indiana Jones).

I also liked his dynamic with Mark Wahlberg’s Sully. Their relationship is the back-bone of the film. And it’s one which will make or break the film depending on how you feel about their partnership. I happened to like their quick-witted back-and-forth. Their ever-growing emotional connection is also sweet.

Nate and Sully feel like an unconventional mentor/ mentee relationship in entertainment. Sully is Nate’s mentor figure, though Nate doesn’t treat him with much reverence or respect (not that Sully would deserve it). They are, for all intents and purposes, equals. Yet Sully and Nate are always learning from each other and pushing one another’s character growth.

Speaking of Sully: Wahlberg isn’t much like the video-game Sully… I mean, there are quite a few moments or lines which feel like Sully would have. But Wahlberg plays Sully more like an older Nathan Drake. And that’s funny to me because Wahlberg was originally cast as Drake when this film was originally pitched over 10 years ago…

But let’s leave the video-game baggage behind for a moment. I’d argue that giving Sully a few more similarities to Nathan Drake works for this film. This choice shows how Drake’s future might look if he continues down a similar path. Sully is an untrusting, selfish, and manipulative person. Drake is none of those things in this film, although Sully tries to make him so.

Sully (Wahlberg) and Drake explore a church for treasure

Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) was good for her role. Chloe’s loyalties were always in question, which kept her character interesting. You were never quite sure what she’d do next. Although I found her largely underwritten. She was more of a plot-device than a fully-fleshed out character.

Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) was a compelling villain. He isn’t deep by any means. Though we learned enough about him to comprehend his deal. And he actually gets to do some evil things, plus show off his intelligence. So you understand why he’s a formidable foe. Once again– nothing groundbreaking but serviceable.

Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) is basically a James Bond villain henchman: the cool enforcer who partakes in most of the action scenes. Her story didn’t rivet me, though left me intrigued. I enjoyed piecing together her backstory. And her evolving motivations throughout the film were subtle, though decently handled.

Moving on to more technical fare: Uncharted contained some enticing action sequences! They were comprehensible, engaging, and reasonably original in certain areas.

Its third act was especially bonkers! By this time the film had dropped any pretense of real-world physics and committed to video-game logic. I thought that last sequence was awesome! Mileage may vary but, for me, the rule of cool beat out my annoying critic brain “Waah! A movie isn’t being hyper-realistic? How dare it!” I told my brain to get over itself and have a good time, and it did.

Tom Holland’s got the physicality of Nathan Drake down! His Spider-Man costume sometimes obscures his stunt-work in those movies and makes me wonder how much of him is really CGI. Uncharted allows Holland’s acrobatic prowess to show in spades! This time I can tell how much effort he put in to his stunt-work.

The fanboy in me found a disturbing lack of gun fights and free climbing for an Uncharted adaptation… They’re definitely in the film, but not so many as I’d have imagined. Though, once again: I understand why Sony refrained from the excessive gun-combats seen in the games. That kind of body-count would feel out of place in a movie like this. Heck– it was extreme even in the video games (and that’s saying something compared to many of the games out there)!

I also felt the CGI wasn’t always polished. The plane scene from the trailers notably could have used some more love. That sequence felt more fake than anything else– even the VFX-heavy third act (and of course they had to start the film with it)…

One final note: Uncharted contains multiple fan-service bits which made me smile. One of these moments takes place on a beach; the other involved a costume piece in the third act. I won’t spoil them here. But I hope you enjoy them too.

Uncharted is a simple, straightforward action movie. It isn’t deep, and it isn’t groundbreaking. But it’s good fun. And that’s fine sometimes. I didn’t ask for much more. The fact that a video-game movie doesn’t suck outright is a win in my books! Thankfully Uncharted is decent by video-game movie standards or otherwise.

Uncharted won’t blow you away but it’s definitely Worth a Watch
(And the games are a Must Play at some point).

Should Hollywood stop trying to make Video Game Movies work? What did you think of Uncharted? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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