Movie Review: “Uncharted”


Tom Holland in "Uncharted"

It’s a unique sensation when one person can be easily singled out of a group or project as the issue. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is bad on their own — merely that they are not in harmony with the others, whether it’s an inferior drummer in a stellar rock band, a mediocre outfielder on an all-star baseball team or a particular performer in a movie/TV show who sticks out like a sore thumb. Mark Wahlberg isn’t the only problem with “Uncharted,” but, given the importance of his role and the amount of screen time that he has, it is the most pronounced and frustrating of the bunch. The other detrimental aspects certainly hinder Ruben Fleischer’s film from being as great as it could be, but most could be forgiven, as they are offset by some fun sequences and lots of charm from Tom Holland and the rest of the cast. If “Uncharted” does become a movie franchise (as its two post-credit scenes set up), this Wahlberg conundrum can hopefully be resolved in some form to allow for a cinematic experience free from so many lulls and missteps.

Nathan Drake (Holland) is recruited by Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg) to help find the lost treasure that Ferdinand Magellan’s ships were reportedly carrying before they disappeared. Nathan is brought in because he’s an expert in history and exploration like his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow). Sam has been absent from Nathan’s life for decades, and now it appears that he’s missing completely after accompanying Sully on these adventures. Nathan, with his quick thinking and nimble athleticism, joins Sully on a race across the globe to locate the gold and hopefully some answers as well. This quest brings them into the sights of Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), an obscenely wealthy man who is obsessed with reclaiming the riches that he believes are owed to him as a descendant of the mariners. Moncada has employed a ruthless mercenary named Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) to help unearth the treasure and kill anyone who gets in the way. Wading into all of this is Chloe (Sophia Ali), another adventurer/thief who forces Nathan to realize that no one can be trusted — not even Sully.

“Uncharted” is based on the very successful video game series of the same name. However, there’s no need to be familiar with the game to enjoy any aspect of the film outside of a few nods (like a cameo by the game’s lead voice actor Nolan North or a joke about Sully growing a mustache). These minor bits of fan service feel forced and are probably recognizable as such even to people who don’t know exactly what’s going on in the moment. It’s a detail that honestly doesn’t come up often but represents an ongoing pattern in “Uncharted” where most sequences, storylines and performances are 90% fully formed but then have a weird gaffe here and there.

Holland occasionally slips into a broad New Yawk accent before going back to his usual American patois, and many of his reactions to the crazy events surrounding him use a lot of the same verbal tics from the Spider-Man films. Additionally, while most of the chase sequences are impressive (with Holland seemingly doing many of his own stunts) and use the surroundings in fun ways, there are some action scenes where the cinematography and editing are too chaotic, which is not the norm for accomplished DP Chung-hoon Chung (“The Handmaiden,” “Last Night in Soho”) and editors Chris Lebenzon (“Top Gun”) and Richard Pearson (“Quantum of Solace”). These flawed set pieces are further marred by sloppy CG that makes it look closer to a video game cutscene than the exciting action beats that occur on physical sets.

Besides these minor intrusions, “Uncharted” offers some legitimately fun character interactions and banter, especially between Holland and Ali. The screenplay creates a Nathan Drake who wants to believe in people being better than they are but isn’t completely naïve to their manipulations and lies, either. Gabrielle is also a terrific heavy whose sultry energy allows for a serpentine approach as she dispatches anyone who gets in her way, while Banderas is very much in Bond villain mode, complete with grandiose monologues. Make no mistake, none of this is meant to be gritty or mired in our reality. Instead, the characters’ relationships and reactions find their grounding in the swashbuckling spirit of the Indiana Jones films.

And then there’s Mark Wahlberg. Putting aside the fact that he is miscast given the character in the games, he simply can’t pull off someone who knows a lot about archeology or who’s canny enough to double-cross so many people. His usual line delivery becomes increasingly pronounced as the film plays, and he exudes little to no charm with Holland. There are two highlights involving one truly funny joke (on purpose, no less) and an inadvertently hilarious sequence where, separated from Holland and Ali, he spends about two minutes constantly asking, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” without any change in wording, pitch or any other modicum of acting. Per his role in this film (not to mention the games), Sully should be someone that audiences don’t really trust but can’t help but like due to his natural warmth, humor and sardonic ways. Wahlberg lacks all of those qualities in this movie.

Fleischer’s film is certainly flawed in ways that go beyond the co-founder of Wahlburgers. Whether it was due to a restrictive budget or schedule, there are elements that should have been easily recognized and then slightly revised to lessen their distracting natures. But apart from these unrefined missteps, “Uncharted” is a fun movie centered on a charismatic lead with enjoyable set pieces and engaging relationships. Invoking Indiana Jones in multiple ways doesn’t help with the comparison, but it’s certainly better than a vast majority of archeological adventures and a pleasant way to spend a few hours. There’s true gold within “Uncharted,” and hopefully the filmmakers will be able to extract and polish it off for any future endeavors in the series.


Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle
Director: Ruben Fleischer

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