Uncharted Review

Back in 2011, in a commercial made for the Japanese market but which has since appeared online, Harrison Ford sat down in front of a TV to play the third video game in the Uncharted series. “Fantastic. Oh, incredible,” said the star, as he hammered the X button with his thumb. “So cinematic.” It was a publicity coup — the actual Indiana Jones stepping into the pixelly shoes of his gaming equivalent, Nathan Drake. It was yet more evidence that Uncharted — a brilliantly executed PlayStation adventure franchise which is, yes, cinematic as hell — was destined to become a film series too. But the ad also hinted strongly at the biggest problem facing anyone daring to take Drake to the big screen: the shadow of Spielberg’s Indy films, the gold standard for movies about treasure-hunters dodging dusty booby-traps and falling out of planes.

After roughly 15 years of development, Uncharted the movie is finally here. Dusty booby-traps and plummets from planes are present and correct. Alas, despite the promise and all that time expended, it’s disappointingly weak sauce. For die-hard fans of the games, there’s little that lives up to their ingeniously unfolding action set-pieces, such as the train sequence in Uncharted 2 which builds and builds in intensity until a cliffhanger that involves actual cliff-hanging, or the wild horseback gun-battle in part 3. Non-Drakeheads, meanwhile, are likely to wonder what all the fuss was about. What’s on screen is amiable enough, a hunt for $4 billion of pirate booty that involves a lot of double-crossing (plus, thanks to the film’s twin MacGuffin, a pair of crucifixes, a literal double-cross). But while it clearly aims for Raiders Of The Lost Ark — “When did you decide to become Indiana Jones?” someone says at one point, while our heroes’ trek is depicted by a red dotted line on a map, Indy-style — it lands somewhere around National Treasure 2 instead.

Antonio Banderas makes for a colourless villain, with monologues about “diversified investments” so inert that even his goons look bored.

Over the years, the search to fill the two lead roles — Drake and his grizzled mentor Sully — cycled through pretty much every actor in Hollywood with a gym membership card. It finally landed on Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, two actors who can be charming and funny individually, but who struggle to muster up much in the way of comic chemistry here. It doesn’t help that the dialogue they’re given is significantly lamer than that uttered by their video-game counterparts; as they bicker in catacombs over ancient riddles (Wahlberg was at least well-cast in the sense that his resting expression suggests he is perpetually trying to crack an ancient riddle), scenes start to feel like cutscenes that you wish you could skip. Antonio Banderas, likewise, makes for a colourless villain, with monologues about “diversified investments” so inert that even his goons look bored.

There are moments when it jolts into life: a well-executed, lengthy single shot tracking Drake as he freefalls from an aircraft; some Goonies-esque underground map-syncing. But only the final 20 minutes, with a pirate-ship battle that takes to the skies, lives up to the giddy, inventive spectacle of the source material. Otherwise, Uncharted plods around an all-too-familiar map.

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