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Uncharted film review: This is how you don’t adapt a video game

Tom Holland stars as Indi—er, as Nathan Drake in Columbia Pictures' <em>Uncharted</em>.
Enlarge / Tom Holland stars as Indi—er, as Nathan Drake in Columbia Pictures’ Uncharted.

Columbia Pictures

Imagine a video game sequel where pretty much everything fans liked about the original was gone. Less action; simpler puzzles; boring environments; plot holes big enough to drive the “Hog Wild” seaplane through; and perhaps worst of all, main characters with dull dialogue.

This imaginary game, I should add, opens with an interminable 80-minute cut scene, only to be followed by an energetic action sequence that recalls the original series’ best, most swashbuckling bits.

That’s what the first-ever Uncharted film feels like. It’s based on the popular PlayStation-exclusive game series of the same name, and it stars the same main characters. But, while reminiscent of Indiana Jones, the movie doesn’t have the same breezy, comical, action-packed stuff of that franchise—or of the Uncharted games. How wild that a video game delivers better movie-like thrills than its live-action version.

A brief glimpse of gold

"Professor, what's another word for pirate treasure?" "Drake, stop asking me that question."
Enlarge / “Professor, what’s another word for pirate treasure?” “Drake, stop asking me that question.”

Columbia Pictures

The final scene is the film’s exception, and I’ll start there, in case you wait for Uncharted‘s streaming release, look up this review, and skip to the ending. Like its namesake game series, this week’s theatrical exclusive is all about surviving fistfights and solving mysteries while searching for an ancient-treasure jackpot. Uncharted‘s booty is a doozy: two stranded, treasure-filled pirate ships, somehow hidden from all satellite and radar imaging or explorers for over 500 years. A villain captures the ships and decides to airlift them via helicopters.

Thing is, series hero Nathan Drake (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and his accomplice, Sully (Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter), got to the ships first and stowed away on one of them. Whoosh: into the air they go, at which point they attempt a sky-pirate heist.

Most of the film's scenes with both Drake and Sully play out more like this: bored and in the dark.
Enlarge / Most of the film’s scenes with both Drake and Sully play out more like this: bored and in the dark.

Columbia Pictures

The film’s camera greedily follows the subsequent nonsense, which includes climbing ancient ship ropes, clumsily bouncing into combat, rope-assisted mid-air leaps between flying ships, and men somehow getting into full-blown sword fights in the year 2022. At this point, the crew sees no reason to hide its intention: to deliver the most satisfying, CGI-fueled Indiana Jones fight a film has seen in years.

Holland and Wahlberg wait until this end-of-film scene to settle into a groove. The fighting is limber and comedic, finally landing in a Chaplin-worthy realm. And the quips and banter between the duo feel genuinely comedic and energetic for the first time in the entire film.

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