Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg seek box-office treasure with Uncharted, an adaptation of the popular Playstation video game series in another synergistic bit of cross-platforming from the folks at Sony.
Originally slated for a 2020 release, production was halted early and often due to COVID for this potential franchise starter, and that’s after years of revolving directors and shuffled-around cast.
Decisions like settling on Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer as the director and casting Wahlberg in the mentor role instead of as the main hero feel more perfunctory than purposeful. With these problems at the forefront, it’s admirable that the result of these struggles is formally sound and occasionally thrilling, if unremarkable on the whole.
After being separated from his adventure-loving brother as a teenager, young hotshot Nathan Drake (Holland) harbors an obsession for long-lost treasure while tending bar in New York. As fate should have it, treasure-hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg) engages Drake at his workplace and tells tale of a Magellan-era fortune lost to time that’s just waiting to be rediscovered.
The pair jet set to an art auction in Barcelona, where they plan to steal a cross-shaped key to kick off their journey but are met by fellow gold-seeker Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his ruthless accomplice Jo (Tati Gabrielle). Another key turns up in the hands of Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a fellow adventurer who reluctantly joins Drake and Sully in their conquest to find Magellan’s fortune before Moncada and his deadly crew get the chance.
To cut to the chase, Uncharted is two terrific action setpieces in search of a complete movie. The first such sequence is the lynchpin of the film’s advertising, which features Drake bouncing from one supply crate to another as they plummet through the sky. Add some henchmen, a tumbling Mercedes-Benz, and some ripped-from-the-video-game physics, and you have a fun, gravity-defying crescendo so nice, they play it twice. The second is in the third act, and without giving too much away, it involves a pair of helicopters making some impressive aerial maneuvers while lifting precious cargo below. Apropos of the action-adventure genus, there are plenty of secret passages and mechanical doors that lead up to (“get in the way of” may be more apt) these airborne acrobatics.
As with genre classics like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean, whose protagonists are name-dropped during scenes that borrow heavily from the respective films, characters remain key for staying power. Sadly, Uncharted’s trio of screenwriters don’t provide enough on the page for the actors to create memorable ones. Most of Drake and Sully’s repartee revolves around disparities in their age (Sully leaves too many apps open on his phone!) or in their masculinity (Drake orders girly drinks!) but the characterization remains thin. Gabrielle and Ali are able to add a bit more nuance to their roles, by virtue of not being saddled with clunky comedic dialogue, but their performances don’t exactly lift the material much, either.
Fresh off the blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home that recently overtook Avatar’s No. 3 spot on the list of all-time domestic earners, Holland does what he can to distance himself from the version of Peter Parker with which he’s most commonly associated. As someone who’s never played the game upon which this movie is based, I can’t say how his Drake compares to the digital counterpart, but Holland brings a grifter’s charm that won me over. He’s certainly better off here than he was in disasters like Chaos Walking and Cherry.
Wahlberg may have been a better fit for Drake when he was originally tapped for the role 10 years ago, but recasting him as the sidekick is about as awkward in execution as one may expect.
Uncharted doesn’t go as off the map as it could’ve, but it doesn’t chart enough of an original course to make it worth the journey.
New movies coming this weekend
Playing only in theaters is Studio 666, a horror-comedy starring Foo Fighters members Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, which finds the frontman tangling with supernatural forces while the band records their 10th studio album in a mansion.
Premiering on Hulu is No Exit, a snowbound thriller starring Havana Rose Liu and Dennis Haysbert about a college student stranded at an isolated highway rest stop who discovers a kidnapped child hidden in a car belonging to one of the people inside.
Streaming on Netflix is A Madea Homecoming, a family comedy starring Tyler Perry and Cassi Davis-Patton that reconvenes the feisty matriarch with her family for a celebratory dinner for her great-grandson’s graduation.