'Uncharted' review: Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg anchor watchable video game adaptation
Courtesy of Sony
Fans of video games know the story all too well: Their beloved franchise’s where they’ve spent hours upon hours unpacking and sorting while coasting on Red Bull at two o’clock in the morning finally get the live action treatment and there’s a glimmer of hope it might be somewhat decent only to crash and burn. Needless to say, adaptations based on popular games don’t have a good track record, so one might approach Ruben Flesicher’s “Uncharted” with a sense of apprehension and for good reason. How could a series that already felt like a cinematic experience translate to the big screen? The results aren’t as bad as one might assume thanks to the charisma of its lead star Tom Holland who is stepping away from the spidey suit momentarily to try and find a vehicle worthy of his talents. “Cherry” and “Chaos Walking” were disasters for Holland and considering “Uncharted” is passively watchable thanks to its gritty “Sahara” meets “National Treasure” vibes, it’s already one of the better video game adaptations by default because it at least tries to have fun even if you’d rather go home and play the games instead.
Holland plays Nate Drake, a young pickpocketer who uses his day job as a bartender to try and steal from wealthy trust fund clientele. Though this wasn’t a sublot explored in the games, it’s a nice bit of worldbuilding as it pertains to the introduction of Mark Wahlberg’s Victor “Sully” Sullivan, another beloved character from the game though here he’s much younger. (Someone more akin to Bruce Campbell could have done wonders in this role). Sully, a world renowned artifact collector and thief, lures Nate from his mundane lifestyle to the big leagues where dangerous foreign adversaries (say hello to the campiest version of Antonio Banderas who understood what was being asked of him) shoot first and ask questions later, but the haul is worth billions in gold.
Double crosses and alliances shift throughout the film (don’t even try to keep track) as Nate and Sully go on a globe-trotting adventure to track down an ancient treasure with plenty of puzzles and Indiana Jones-like booby traps popping up along the way. Fleischer, who directed “Venom” and “Zombieland,” keeps the tempo moving fast enough between sequences so the audience can’t stop and think about the corny dialogue or rough patch of green screen locales. The camera work isn’t particularly thrilling either, but Holland utilizes his dexterity (and spidey background) to parkour around a few national landmarks with a breezy pep in his step whereas Whalberg harbors the stereotypical: “I’m getting to old for this” schtick (though apparently Sully isn’t old enough for Tinder).
Regardless, nobody is expecting much from “Uncharted” and perhaps those basement level expectations opened the door for me to be slightly amused at several crafty brawls (one inside a lavish auction gala early in the film sparkles with energy). Plus, as a fan, picking apart the fun little nods and easter eggs of the games was a nifty treasure hunt on its own. Still, Holland, bless him, can’t handle the tougher emotional beats required of the role and part of that belongs to the five credited screenwriters (yes, five) who struggle to tap into the foundation of what made the games as fun as they were. Of course, “Uncharted” is being teed-up as the inaugural addition in a possible franchise (I loath when films put their cart in front of the horse like this) with two post-credit scenes to tease the next installment. Though I wouldn’t hate another go around with these characters on the big screen, especially as Holland and Wahlberg aren’t completely dreadful, let’s hope the narrative doesn’t get marooned in uncharted waters.
UNCHARTED opens in theaters Friday, February 18th.