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Uncharted ★★



Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle

Release: February 12, 2022 (UK Cinemas)

Uncharted is a difficult film to review. The film is the fun action ride the games are, but without any of the character nuances, breathing room, or a sense of pacing. Its performances are punchy and lived in, the chemistry between actors always near electric, but the relationships between Nate and his partners are vapid in terms of what bonds them. The action is well shot and edited, with a real sense of propulsion, so it’s beguiling as to why the set pieces were saved for the last 45 minutes, while the first hour is a Dan Brown novel with better parkour. But without a doubt, the most contradictory aspect of the film is the way it has pandering fan service. Yet, fans of the games will most likely be bored by a plot that rehashes the fourth game without any of the emotionally impactful cause after work or deep mythology to the treasure they search for while sprinkling in the iconography of the first three games. Rueben Fleischer has made a film that, while fun and breezy, doesn’t feel like it’s aiming to appease anyone. Its plot and characters are too stripped down for non-fans to get a sense of the world and fundamental elements of the series while simultaneously being cumbersome at times for the fans for aforementioned reasons. Uncharted is like a great time on a rollercoaster if the rollercoaster was all buildup and little of the rollicking nature of the experience.

Following a brief prologue as a child with his brother Sam, Nathan Drake is a bartender (and small-time thief) in New York when Victor “Sully” Sullivan recruits the explorer to find the lost treasure of Magellan’s trip around the world. All the while, Moncada (Antonio Banderas) is also vying for the treasure, as he believes it’s a birthright owed to his family from centuries past. Nate and Sully must go toe to toe with Moncada to see who can come out on top with the treasure, while Nate hopes to find his long-lost brother.

Uncharted’s strongest attribute that makes the film always entertaining is the performances and the way it captures the snarky and witty dialogue of the game, the chemistry between Holland and Wahlberg persisting even when they are speaking from across rooms or between a helicopter and a 700-year-old ship. The humour is snappy and character-building while also helping elevate the film’s tone. Holland’s ineffable charm and charisma shine through, his embodiment of a young Nathan Drake fitting the Naughty Dog character to a tee. Holland has gone on record about the intensity of the stunt work for the film and its toll on him as an actor. While that experience is undoubtedly regrettable for Holland, his physicality adds to the authenticity of in-camera effects, particularly the long shots of parkour or hand to hand combat that shows Holland as a Bonafede action star outside of a spandex suit. Wahlberg is another interesting contradiction the film exemplifies. His character is not written as Sully, yet the retorts between him and Nate feel like he is that character. His performance inhabits the basic components of Sully, a father figure and a thief with a heart of gold. Still, it lacks the warmth that defines the character and is the underlying nature of Nate and Sully’s relationship, resulting in pedantic and emotionally calculated, down to the inclusion of close-ups, character-building scenes for Sully, as well as moments of mean-spirited humour towards Nate.

Meanwhile, Antonio Banderas steals the show with a pitch-perfect camp performance, blissfully aware of the drastically underwritten presentation of his character and embodying the moustache-twirling villains of classic adventure films. Yet the film shortchanges his performance time and again, never giving into the early 2000s adventure film tone that Uncharted is begging to be, instead opting for aggravating double-crosses that make up the overly saturated heist genre (Red Notice, unfortunately, comes to mind) that are excused with rote and one-note characterization, which is especially true for the film’s female characters.

Besides the characters and sense of humour, the Uncharted series is renowned for its action set pieces that are both wonderfully linear yet deceptively engrained with small moments of a personal decision by the gamer to enhance that sense of immersion. For the film’s first hour, the action has a bizarre start and stop nature. Nate gets himself into fights and perilous climbing situations only for the scene to abruptly resolve the action without any entertainment value. Paired with an aggressively simplified backstory to the treasure they search for, most of the film coasts by on its tone and performances. This makes for pacing that feels exceptionally fast in the first hour. Yet, nothing of significant importance happens, missing out on the ways the games let the characters and moments breathe instead of feeling like a cutscene compilation. Once reaching the much-advertised plane sequence, which makes for the great hook of an opening scene, the action takes centre stage. Visually kinetic with solid choreography and editing that punctuates the violence, along with some clever and immersive POV shots during these scenes. The camerawork and transitions during this action set pieces are fluid and well-executed. The film’s third act is a blast that warrants the price of admission alone, but the buildup to get there can be tedious at best, pandering at worst.

Ruben Fleischer’s film is confounding in the ways it evades the games yet lazily plays into them, how it relies on a hodgepodge story that is at odds with moments of fan service, and how the special effects are blatantly used in non-action heavy scenes, which makes the Covid reshot scenes undeniably apparent. Most confounding of all is how Nate doesn’t have a clear sense of character development. The nurturing of his historical fascinations and ability to decipher what the others can’t is explained by the relationship to his brother rather than what he has spent years preparing for. This makes the scenes nearly copied from the games fall flat, his character not getting the time or proper set-up to allow him to develop himself or explore the intricacies of the relationships around him.

Uncharted can be one hell of a fun ride, and still, its deeply flawed presentation and unnecessary sequel set-ups or fan service post-credit scenes mire the film in conventionality and universe, establishing that the PlayStation Studios logo that opens the film exemplifies. Uncharted has moments that warrant the theatre and communal experience that the games cannot incorporate, especially in the performances and set pieces, making it one of the better video game movies. Yet, at the same time, the inescapable feeling eventually sinks in by the time the credits roll: the craving to care for the characters on screen as we did on our consoles.

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