Despite a jarring script and not bringing much new to the table, Sony’s Uncharted is held together by the performances of Tom Holland and Sophia Ali.
The journey to the big screen for this adaptation of Naughty Dog’s “Uncharted” video game series has been a rough one to say the least. Said journey began in 2008, when producer Avi Arad revealed he’d be producing a film adaptation of “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,” the first entry in the series. From there, the film went through a number of writer and director combinations, with David O. Russell (director of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) and Travis Knight (who directed Bumblebee) being among the most notable names. In fact, Mark Wahlberg, who portrays Victor “Sully” Sullivan in 2022’s Uncharted (more on that later) was cast in the lead role of Nathan Drake at one point. This film spent so long in development and to illustrate just how long, you just need to know that three sequels to the first “Uncharted” game – “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” (2009), “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” (2011), and the final installment, “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” (2016) – were all released before its adaptation could hit cinemas. So, how did things turn out?
Uncharted (2022) is actually a prequel to the games, taking place before the events of “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” and focusing on a younger version of protagonist Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) who is recruited by Wahlberg’s veteran treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan, who is attempting to locate the lost treasure of the Magellan expedition. The pair find themselves pitted against fellow treasure hunter Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his hired henchwoman Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) in a thrilling chase for vast amounts of riches.
While Uncharted does feature a number of positives, including some excellently recreated moments from the video games, and the strong performances of Tom Holland and Sophia Ali as Chloe Frazer, a fortune hunter and ally of Nathan and Sully, there are drawbacks. The biggest drawback has to be a script that clearly went through too many rewrites during development. As a result, the story feels like something that was designed to please new audiences and longtime fans, but only slightly. It doesn’t offer up anything that newcomers haven’t seen before in the likes of the Indiana Jones series. So, if you know nothing, you’ll like it, but won’t come away feeling like you’ve seen the next great action adventure. Diehard fans will also come away mostly pleased, but Uncharted isn’t perfect in that department either. The story changes key elements from the games that don’t seem necessary at all, most notably, the first meeting of Nathan and Sully.
Screenwriters Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway seemed to pick and choose elements from all four games that they wanted to explore, rather than making this strictly a prequel to “Drake’s Fortune”. For example, the plane sequence seen in the trailers is lifted in part from “Uncharted 3”. Had they stuck to the established lore, you can’t help but think the story would’ve been better for all audience members. In an attempt at trying to please both casuals and fans, this mixed bag of a tale was created, with good and bad elements.
As a fan, it was a treat to see Nathan Drake on the big screen, and Tom Holland does a better job at bringing Drake to life than most thought he would. His Drake isn’t the one we’re used to, but with his charm and wit, Holland is laying the foundation to become just that. Sophia Ali’s Chloe Frazer is without a doubt the best depiction of an Uncharted character that this adaptation has to offer. Chloe has always been seen more as a darker counterpart to Nathan Drake, more like Indiana Jones than Drake himself is (despite Uncharted’s protagonist often being compared to him). Ali nearly steals the show from Holland whenever they share the screen thanks to her charisma and badass attitude. It’s also worth mentioning that while Ali doesn’t have the dark sultry voice of Claudia Black (who portrayed Chloe in the games), she makes the character her own with a pretty convincing and pleasing accent.
Ali’s Chloe represents the best big screen depiction offered in Uncharted, Mark Wahlberg’s Sully is without a doubt the worst. From his lack of Sully’s trademark mustache (which is something he even had during most flashbacks throughout the games) to the fact that Wahlberg never really captures what makes Victor Sullivan a beloved character. For most of the film, he’s just out of place as a version of himself dressed like Sully. When he delivers some of the lines lifted in part from the games, Wahlberg achieves a bit of that loveable charm, but he is never able to fully sustain it. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with the actor, the casting department should shoulder some of it too, but Wahlberg is absolutely miscast.
Back to the positives, the story, despite its faults, is lifted up by Holland’s likeable protagonist, who along with Ali’s Chloe, keeps you invested. Contrast this with a film like Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021), which I also reviewed. Snake Eyes had a subpar story with Henry Golding’s Snake Eyes being a thoroughly unlikable lead. If you have compelling leads, it can be easier to enjoy a story with faults. Thankfully, Uncharted does have likeable characters, which is part of why I can’t completely condemn it to the realm of horrible films.
Although the set pieces aren’t as unique as those from the games, they definitely look and feel like an “Uncharted” game. The plane sequence set piece (inspired by “Uncharted 3”) is as close as this film comes to bringing something new to the table in terms of action-adventure films. The rest are solid enough, and certainly feel like they belong. However, I wouldn’t call them special in any way shape or form, you’ve likely seen something like them before outside of the plane sequence. It’s a real case of good, not great with the stunts in Uncharted and I’m sure that some may leave wishing they were better.
If you go in expecting a grand adventure, Uncharted likely won’t deliver. Temper your expectations and you’ll likely leave thinking that the film was decent enough, despite having faults. With solid performances from Tom Holland and Sophia Ali, and interesting set pieces, the film overcomes a script that is jarring and riddled with plot holes. It also leaves me with a hope that a sequel will be able to remedy this film’s issues and build on a decent enough foundation to create something incredible.