Review: Uncharted – For a Real Adventure, Play the Games

Before you read on, there are massive spoilers ahead for this review of the Uncharted adaptation. Fifteen years of development hell, seven directors, a pandemic, countless delays, and a selfie of Mark Wahlberg’s Sully stache. Finally, the Uncharted film has landed. I purchased my ticket, plonked myself into a seat, and discovered whether or not the adaptation had been worth the wait more than a decade later.

There’s a vast amount to dissect from this Uncharted film, so I’m going to just jump right in. When we first meet Nate (Tom Holland), he’s flamboyantly mixing cocktails and serving beautiful women at bars. He keeps his criminal hobby of pickpocketing unsuspecting customers on the low, targeting a beautiful blonde woman who resembles the video game counterpart of Elena. At closing, Nate meets Sully (Mark Wahlberg). Unlike the scene revealed in the trailers, there are no references to school or being too old for prom, it is an in fact an entirely different sequence.

Instead, Sully offers Nate ‘a job’, a line that has been rinsed in almost every crime and heist thriller you can name. Recognising Nate’s talent for swiping bracelets on the down low, Sully offers him a chance to travel the world and become involved in the film’s big adventure, the search for the Magellan Expedition, led by Ferdinand Magellan. Nate will later learn that Sully had partnered with his older brother Sam is searching for loot belonging to Ferdinand Magellan, who led the Magellan Expedition. Before the events of the film, Sam and Sully recover a diary belonging to Juan Sebastian Elcano, the Magellan Expedition navigator. The heist goes awry and Sam is shot by a ruthless mercenary, Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), and her army of heavily armed goons.

Nathan Drake - Bartender.
Nathan Drake – Bartender. (Pic: Sony).

However, this entire back story is never revealed on-screen and offered to the audience in the occasional exposition dump, while Sully lies to Nate about the true events surrounding his brother’s vanishing. It serves to create some conflict later in the story between Nate and Sully when these home truths come to light between the two hustlers. Their voyage was financed by a wealthy Spanish family known as the Moncada’s, who provided Magellan and his crew with a loan to go and find the gold, and in return, requested the treasures they’d find. Simple. So naturally, Nate accepts the offer to heist an altar crucifix from a black market auction, which functions as a key.

This particular sequence heavily resembles the famous sequence from Chapter 6 of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. At this point, we meet the film’s villain, Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), the well-dressed and gravelly-voiced last descendant of the Moncadas, a wealthy Spanish family who financed Magellan’s expedition in return for the treasures. Without subtitles, it’s difficult at times to understand what Banderas says, and the same can be said for the mildly humorous Scottish bodyguard working for Moncada. Something about a proper Scottish welcome as he discovers Nate backstage tampering with the power mid-heist. 

Meanwhile, Sully finds himself competing in a bidding war for the ruby-encrusted cross with Moncada, while further contending with Jo Braddock (they had three to four years to come up with that name?), played by Tati Gabrielle. They appear to share a romantic history of some kind, only alluded to by looks and a few throwaway lines about the old days. Sad to say, we’re not going to learn much more about their past together, or anything meaningful to develop Braddock’s character, from motivations or general backstory, but more on that later. 

Nate and Santiago Moncada.
Nate and Santiago Moncada. (Pic: Sony).

After successfully swiping the cross, unimpressively, I might add, Nate and Sully fly to Barcelona, where they meet Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali). It’s not long before she’s swiping the cross from Nate and Sully (while in possession of the second cross she’d heisted off-screen in Genoa). This scene supports a recurring theme of trust and greed and that there’s no honour among thieves. So there are plenty of twists of this variety on the way. 

They enter a secret crypt hidden within a 15th-century church, the Santa Mari del Pi. According to Elcano’s diary, one person is required to remain outside the church while another heads down into a crypt beneath. So Sully heads out on the surface and follows Nate and Sophia’s movements as they explore below. This leads him to, quite comically, a Papa John’s, while Nate and Chloe become trapped in a crypt flooding with rising water. Sully successfully opens the crypt from the surface to free Nate and Chloe. 

Later, Inside an antechamber, Nate and Chloe discover giant urns of salt. The urns inevitably shatter as Chloe attempts to climb them, wherein which they find a map, and a location for the gold, somewhere in the Philippines. Here, we have a bit of the old double-crossing as mentioned earlier, with Chloe stealing the map from Nate and the revelation that Moncada hired her. With Chloe in the wind, Nate confronts Sully about what happened to Sam. Sully admits that after Sam was shot, he left him for dead.

Chloe Frazer.
Chloe Frazer. (Pic: Sony).

With morale at its lowest, and their friendship falling apart, Nate and Sully track down Moncada to a runway where they stow themselves away inside the boot of the villain’s gorgeous Mercedes 300SL. This is the movie’s turning point with perhaps the most surprising power shift yet. When I say surprising, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Antonio Banderas has by this point done very little. 

As we reach the middle of the second act, with the cargo plane high in the sky, Moncada is killed off by Braddock. I linger with popcorn in my hand, mouth ajar, utterly confused. I admire the decision to kill a film’s primary antagonist so unexpectedly, but due to his lack of screen time and the generic stock villain archetype he portrayed with painful perfection, it begs the question, why wasn’t Braddock the central villain from the outset? Braddock however, is no better. As I’d alluded to earlier, Gabrielle has been written as thinly as Banderas, with no efforts to flesh out a backstory or at least allude to her motivations in the film.

While it’s obvious greed and temptation play heavily throughout her arc, the film does not attempt to inform the audience of these goals. The power shift is an interesting one, but Santiago Moncada’s death felt premature, and ultimately summarised the part Banderas played in the film. I’d speculated a length as to who Banderas would play, and if he’d share any faithful connection to any of the franchise’s best-known villains. 

The Plane.
The Plane. (Pic: Sony).

Doesn’t appear so. He’s a ruthless Spanish fortune hunter in a loveless relationship with his father. His best moments are riddled by generic writing and filler scenes, weak as they are. They include the execution of his father, and making a handful of mildly unnerving speeches brimming with coldly calculated evilness. He’s a thinly-written, woefully under-developed villain and it’s a massive disappointment that after so many years, this was the best the adaptation could conjure up.

Back to the positive side of things, the cargo plane sequence, inspired from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, is a faithful recreation of the iconic source material, echoing the one-take shot of Tom Cruise diving from a plane over Paris in Mission Impossible 6: FalloutThe advancements in green screens and CGI make this sequence visually impressive but far less hair-raising than the video game’s original set-piece. The film opens with Nate hanging from a cargo pallet, and it makes for a perfect, promising way to reel the audience in.

Meanwhile, on board the plane, Chloe is fighting Braddock and her goons in a meekly choreographed shootout sequence. She escapes in Moncada’s treasured Mercedes as she and Nate dive toward the ocean in pursuit of a single cargo pallet. Similar to the video game, they successfully cling to a pallet and pull the parachute cord before bombing into the ocean. 

Magellan's Lost Ships.
Magellan’s Lost Ships. (Pic: Sony).

Instead of a vast, endless desert, Chloe and Nate wash up on a beach overlooking the Banda sea, where they meet a strangely familiar man lying on a sunbed. Put simply, Nolan North’s cameo is perfect. Holland recounts the events that led them to the beach, to which North responds: “Something like that happened to me once.” Perfect. At the same moment, you can hear faintly, Nate’s Theme, and it makes this scene all the more wonderful. 

The film’s third and final act is full of cinematic action to rival the source material’s most iconic set pieces, including a near mid-air collision caught in slow motion between two helicopters. Thanks to a hidden message from Sam in a postcard, and small pins concealed inside the rubies on the crosses, Nate ascertains the location of the Magellan’s ships. Out of concern for where her loyalties, he sends Chloe elsewhere with false coordinates, while Nate discovers Magellan’s two lost ships inside a cave. It’s a beautiful sequence, strongly reminiscent of Henry Avery’s ship in Uncharted 4. Onboard, Nate and Sully, (who tracked him via his phone GPS since parachuting off the plane), discover the treasure, before right on cue, Braddock and her team arrive.

They airlift the ships out of the caves as Nate and Sully beneath floorboards. What follows is a spectacular aerial chase as Sully commandeers one of the helicopters, with Nate fighting mercenaries and donning the iconic shoulder belt holster, backed by Nate’s Theme once again. Chills. So cool. Nate takes down one of the helicopters with a cannon, while Sully throws his loot at Braddock to save Nate before being crushed by one of Magellan’s falling ships. It’s a demise reminiscent of Rafe’s death in Uncharted 4, marking a satisfying end to an otherwise one-note villain. In sacrificing the gold and saving Nate, Sully redeems himself, affirming that he is compassionate with more than just his selfish interests at heart.

Magellan Ships Take To The Skies.
Magellan Ships Take To The Skies. (Pic: Sony).

Of course, they won’t be walking away empty-handed, as Nate reveals that he’d nabbed some pieces of gold to satisfy Sully’s greed. Their chemistry on screen for the most part is entertaining and authentic, and while they commit to their roles wholeheartedly, Mark Wahlberg does not work as Sully. His performance is strong, his motivations are clear, and his redemption arc even more so, but as Sully, I’m simply not sold. If he was thirty years old, maybe I’d see it, while the jokes about Tinder and Mr. Whiskers fail to pay off.

Perhaps I’m too much of a die-hard fan of the source material to appreciate something new, but until a post-credits scene, Wahlberg doesn’t touch a cigar, don the famous stache, or dress in his vintage attire. As for Holland, he’s a wonderful actor, but he’s missing something. He’s charismatic and funny but in a Tom Holland way. Not in a Nathan Drake way. It’s an indescribable feature that only Nolan North could bring to the role, and one Nathan Fillion came painfully close to capturing with his fan film. As for the music, Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack captured the adventure and energy of the Uncharted story perfectly. For everything critical you can say about Uncharted, Djawadi’s soundtrack is in a class of its own.

If X marks the spot, then this Uncharted adaptation narrowly misses the target. Instead, what we have is a sort of greatest hits of the Uncharted franchise. Including Nolan North’s cameo, there were a handful of easter eggs only the most eagle-eyed fans would spot. There’s Sam’s lighter, the faint renditions of Nate’s Theme, a cheeky Naughty Dog sticker on the inside of Nate’s suitcase, Sam languishing in a prison cell, and a post-credits scene strongly indicating a Drake’s Fortune sequel. Nate meets with Gage (Pilou Asbæk), who refers to his employer as Roman, a central villain from the first Uncharted game. There’s also talk of a Nazi map, so it’s all pointing in that direction. 

Sully and The Stache.
Sully and The Stache. (Pic: Sony).

Uncharted is not a terrible film, but it’s not a great one either. Ruben Fleischer’s effort is a frantic, fun, and breathless big-screen experience of Naughty Dog’s acclaimed franchise, and serves as a decent launching point for a sequel if green-lit. There’s plenty more to mine from the series, and certainly room for improvement. What do you think of the Uncharted film? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!

Matt Bailey

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