At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Uncharted “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Adventure/ Stars: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Rudy Pankow, Pilou Asbæk, Steven Waddington, Manuel de Blas, Tiernan Jones/ Runtime: 116 minutes

I think I can safely say that it is not being overemphasized in any manner, but I swear I have been hearing tales off and on of a cinematic adaptation of the iconic PlayStation video game series Uncharted for no less than the past 10 years and honestly it isn’t hard to see why. I mean this is one beloved and iconic franchise that, since its onset, has all but gotten down on its hands and knees and begged to be made into a feature film in the vein of something resembling the legendary cinematic adventures of one Indiana Jones. Heck the franchise on its own offered up so many truly jaw-dropping cinematic cut scenes that all Hollywood would have to do to make this even remotely a hit with the fans of the franchise is just take those cut scenes and use them as a blueprint for a feature film. Yet for reasons I have never been able to fathom numerous creative minds tried to make a cinematic adaptation and numerous creative minds gave up and as a result this was one project that seemed to just accept its fate in cinematic limbo. That is until Sony Pictures’ newest golden boy, and current Web Head, Tom Holland agreed to take on the lead role for the studio. However due to the significant gap in age between our young Mr. Holland and that of Uncharted’s main hero, Mr. Nathan Drake, the creative minds at the studio made the decision to have this cinematic stab at the franchise be significantly retooled to operate as a prequel or origin story of sorts to the saga seen in the games of this iconic adventurer and his experienced mentor Sully. As a result, we see that the majority of the first half of this slice of cinema turns into an entire catalogue of background info having to be dumped on to the audience which creates quite the unfortunate backlog in terms of pacing and tempo. Thankfully, however once this slice of cinema is able to get past that and actually embark on the treasure hunt proper, it really does find much more stable ground to traverse. A blessing which not only saves the movie overall, but also makes the third act of this film by far the best whilst also laying the groundwork for a sequel that could be a lot closer to the games not just in terms of characterization, but also in plot and spirit as well. No this slice of cinema is by no means perfect, but it is fun and it is accessible to those who have never picked up a copy of the games before a day in their lives. If you have though just be prepared: there are changes made in this that can be a bit out of left field, but if you go into the film appreciating that they actually were able to get some kind of adaptation you might find a decent amount to enjoy here.

The plot is as follows: Uncharted opens its riveting yarn by introducing us to a young man by the name of (what else?) Nathan Drake. Drake may seem when we meet him working as a bartender to be auditioning for Tom Cruise’s role in a remake of Cocktail, but in reality he is more like Benjamin Gates from National Treasure. That is if Gates also went around charming women out of their various jewels and valuables whilst also being passionately obsessed with both history and a vast yet lost treasure of gold tied to no less a historical figure than Ferdinand Magellan. At any rate, it isn’t long before our young hero crosses paths with a snarky albeit significantly more experienced treasure hunter by the name of Victor “Sully” Sullivan. Sully it turns out is not only someone who is also looking for the same treasure as our hero, but who also knew Drake’s brother who has been missing from our hero’s life for quite a while. Thus seeing that our hero has quite the knowledge, the initiative, and maybe an invaluable tool or 4 to find the treasure, we see Sully propose the two team up to find the treasure together. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that our dynamic duo is not the only ones out there looking for the loot. Indeed there’s also a quite ruthless and well-off treasure hunter by the name of Santiago Moncada who’s willing to do just about anything (even straight up murder people) to acquire it, a menacing leader of a group of mercenaries Moncada hires to assist him by the name of Braddock, and an every now and then partner of Sully’s named Chloe Frazer who may possess something that is of the utmost importance to find the treasure thrown into the mix as well. Thus can our dynamic duo figure out who to trust, who to thwart, and work together in order to find the gold? That I will leave you to discover for yourself….

Now among other things, Uncharted has been a popular franchise since whilst playing them the games manage to do a wonderful job of placing its main character (and you, the gamer) in a collection of circumstances that games hadn’t really thought to put a character through before including placing him in a train car that is careening perilously from a cliff and then forcing him to utilize his intellect to get out before it goes over the cliff. Indeed it is riveting in the best way possible and honestly if a movie adaptation wasn’t prepared to make your adrenaline pump in the same way then they really ought not to have bothered until they were prepared to. Thankfully, I can say that despite the backlog of exposition that is present in the first half of this film making that prerequisite quite difficult to fulfill, the 2nd half of this film definitely makes up for it with a couple of truly memorable action beats that will definitely have you on the edge of your seat. Indeed the action beats and the camera work in these moments is actually incredibly well done and definitely make this one worth seeing on the big screen at least once if you choose to do so. Yes credit must go to Holland for selling audiences on the physicality of the part, but it should also go to this slice of cinema’s pair of screenwriters for thinking them up and this film’s helmer and the rest of the creative team behind the camera for bringing them so vividly to life. Along with that, props should also be given to this film’s narrative for not taking things too seriously which is what exactly how the narrative for a cinematic adaptation of this video game franchise to be. Sure we don’t get that many points in this film that really don’t seem like they came from the games, but nevertheless the film does do a good job at bringing the world of the games to life. Sure it sees our main trinity take part in witty dialogue with each other and sure they take part in a decent amount of fisticuffs, puzzle solving, and globetrotting whilst finding clues to a famous treasure and sure it’s all played in a manner that is both straightforward and fairly unsurprising from a narrative perspective so you can most likely guess where it’s all going. Yet in all fairness there are still a fair amount of delightful reminders that you are actually viewing a cinematic adaptation of the beloved video game franchise Uncharted. That and this slice of cinema does manage to distinguish itself courtesy of really placing a wonderful emphasis at times on both fairly well done dialogue as well as showing that this take on the character may get put in perilous circumstances, but the way he deals with them is both wonderfully silly and immature in equal measure. A key example of this is the scene where our hero first crosses paths with the main antagonist and the manner in which the two trade both barbs and razor-thinly veiled threats is delightfully silly. Indeed these are moments in this slice of cinema where yes the casual movie goer will enjoy, but for those who have are significantly more familiar with the games through either playing them or watching all the cut scenes for them on YouTube, it will make you smile seeing as this film manages to give you everything you love about this character in an actual live action Hollywood movie.

Now as someone who played the Uncharted games with a passion at one point in time, I know that the fan base definitely had a person in mind for who they felt should bring the iconic character of Drake to life on the big screen with Nathan Fillion from Castle being the main name I heard thrown around most often and that to me made a lot more sense than the casting in this film. I say this because as wonderful of an actor Tom Holland is, he is still not in the age range to bring this particular character to life. Indeed Tom Holland in this movie is very much like the patience-testing missions in the games where one played as a younger Drake in that not only does he need to settle in to the role, but we as movie goers need to see him settle down into the part as well. As a result, this means that someone who has zero knowledge of the games and who is seeing this just to see Tom Holland in another movie may not have as much issue with him in the lead role as someone who toiled away to get 100% on every single game in the series (or thereabouts). Plus, as previously touched on, when the film’s action beats kick in, this is where we get to see Holland’s turn in this really begin to shine since the work done by the creative team is mind-boggling as it is, but the fact that Holland actually does the stunts himself is incredible all on its own especially when you discover what they entail. No Holland doesn’t entirely show the scruffy toughness of the character of Drake that fans of the games will be familiar with, but he does at the very least show that it is a part he could really make his own with enough time. I also felt that Mark Wahlberg did manage to do alright as Drake’s snarky quasi-sorta mentor Sully even though now is the time to tell you that there are a few iconic components to the character from the game series that don’t entirely make their way into the film adaptation. I say this because for fans of the game the character of Sully is known for two things: a resonant voice and a very bushy mustache and last I checked Wahlberg is not exactly known for possessing either of those attributes though the latter is not entirely out of the question. As it is though, I really did feel like Wahlberg is just playing himself in this rather than an iconic character from an incredible franchise. With that said however, it should also be noted that our two leads do have a wonderful back and forth with each other including some genuinely emotional moments so all told it’s not a bad performance, but it’s also not as loyal to the source material as fans of the games might like. This then brings us to this film’s collection of villainy and honestly this is one area where this film suffers since they are, by and large, sadly one dimensional. I mean don’t get me wrong: Antonio Banderas does do good work in this (I mean this IS Antonio Banderas we are talking about), but he sadly gets nowhere near enough screen time as his character deserves. His main henchperson on the other hand is meant to be equally as ruthless, but with how little time we actually really spend with the character it won’t surprise me if you have to look up just what exactly the character’s name is (trust me; I did). Along with that, it should be said that I really don’t understand the arc that the villains have in this because it really doesn’t seem like it extends past “find the treasure at any and all cost”. Yet when I think about this, it kind of makes sense since despite the rogues gallery present in the games, the genuine nemesis faced by everyone is the impact greed can have on one’s soul and since that theme does play a part in the film that makes the weak antagonist characterization a little bit better to deal with.

All in all and at the end of the day is Uncharted the next Raiders of the Lost Ark? To put it bluntly no, but then again not even the 3 sequels to Raiders could match that one though an argument could be made that Last Crusade in 1989 did come the closest. At the same time though, is this the colossal misfire that so many, including the marketing department for Sony apparently judging by the trailers, were afraid this one was going to be? Well I can’t speak for any of my fellow critics on the matter, but in my eyes at least I can honestly say no it’s not. Indeed what I can say is that the 2022 cinematic adaptation of Uncharted is one that may not offer anything new to its genre, but it is also a decent and to an extent fun look at a potentially new cinematic adventurer in the making. Indeed as the young Nathan Drake, Tom Holland is actually not that bad and the back and forth he has with Mark Wahlberg’s Victor “Sully” Sullivan was pretty enjoyable even as the film flounders a fair bit by making the villains of the story sadly one dimensional despite a game effort from the always enjoyable Antonio Banderas as well as the fact that the narrative in this simply is checking off all the boxes on the list of things that a slice of cinema in this particular subgenre needs to have in it at some point during its runtime. Suffice it to say that that the changes might be a bit much for those of you who put in countless hours of game play with this iconic roster of characters, but if you are fairly unfamiliar with Nate and company and just meeting them for the first time here this is not a bad introduction. Just don’t go in expecting anything truly revelatory. On a scale of 1-5 I give Uncharted “2022” a solid 3 out of 5.

*Having seen the trailer, I can determine that there are several spoilery bits in it that might be detrimental to your viewing experience. I have therefore elected not to post it here so if you choose to view this movie, your viewing experience will not have been altered for the worse in any way.* Ag