From the director of Venom and a comedy short simply titled Masturbation comes the first entry in another video game adaptation, Uncharted. As one currently backseat gaming through Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, my expectations for how this inevitably shallow franchise starter would compare were…not high. Tom Holland looks nothing like Nathan Drake, Mark Wahlberg looks nothing like Paul Newman (or Victor Sullivan, for that matter) and Sam is a distant memory. But I’m hardly a wealth of game knowledge – judge lest ye be judged and all that. I went into Ruben Fleischer’s new film with an open mind and a bellyful of Bulla Mint Choc-top and in return, got pretty much what I was expecting – a weak but sporadically enjoyable adventure film that hopefully hasn’t spoiled the rest of the game for me.
The story begins as it does in its first iteration – with Tom Holland falling backwards out of a cargo plane (kidding). In a flashback, we meet a couple of young brothers named Sam and Nate. With their parents gone and the two confined to an orphanage, they get their kicks attempting to steal a map of Magellan’s expedition. These boys are treasure hunters and it’s in their blood, as Sam reminds Nate (and us) that the Drakes are descended from Sir Francis Drake. But it seems that inconspicuous lockpicking isn’t hereditary, and the boys get arrested and returned to the orphanage. It’s the last straw for the nuns as Sam gets thrown out while 10-year-old Nathan must stay and we return to the present, or 15 years later.
Nathan (Holland) now works in a cool bar, pickpocketing the wealthy (and rude) customers while indundating them with cocktail facts they didn’t ask for. His brother never came back for him after the map incident and he doesn’t know why, so he spends his nights mixing drinks for dumb dumbs and his days, presumably practicing his climbing skills. A bar patron who has overstayed his welcome one night turns out to be Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg); he worked with Sam once upon a time and entices Nathan to help him on a treasure quest that may also lead to the whereabouts of his brother. They exchange some banter and out-pickpocket each other, then get to work.
Tom Holland is a man now and we can tell by his muscular bod, his cord necklace and his ability to whip up a Negroni while schooling us on its history. But he’s still too boyish to play Nathan Drake, especially when compared to the character’s original portrayer Nolan North (whose cheeky little cameo put a smile on the face of at least one puritanical gamer in the audience). It’s clear that the intention is to start as young as possible for max franchise potential, and that’s understandable. This is confirmed by the casting of Mark Wahlberg for a character who is 63 in the game on which the film seems to be predominantly based. But Uncharted draws from previous entries in the game series too, evidenced by the inclusion of supposed Australian Chloe Frazer.
Chloe is played in this adaptation by American actress Sophia Taylor Ali and while she fits the physical profile of the character, her complete inability to pull off an Australian accent steals every scene she’s in. I turned to my cinema buddy at least three times throughout to reevaluate which inconsistent dialect of English I was hearing – Australian? South African? New Zealander? – and the answer came with the butchering of the diphthong in ‘rainbow’. Poorly-executed accents in action films are often part of their charm (ahem, Highlander) and this film sometimes plays it for laughs, as is the case with one of the villain’s Scottish henchmen who is frequently misunderstood by Nathan. But the casting director was clearly unfamiliar with the phrase “work smart, not hard” and this particular choice to cast an American and teach her a notoriously difficult accent versus casting an Australian actor drags the film down further for me.
Other gripes include the gross lack of climbing, the (probably budget-based) swapping out of the beautiful Italian manor location of the black market auction for a boring inner-city building, the merging of Thief’s End antagonists Rafe and Hector Alcázar into one for Antonio Banderas’ villain (who is then barely present) and the bait I took in thinking the orphanage flashback would live up to its original form. I did enjoy the comedic traits brought by Wahlberg’s version of Sully (uncharacteristic though they may be); his Mr. Krabs-like obsession with gold and inability to close apps on his phone are hard not to crack a smile at. But they aren’t enough to save the film from joining the Paul W. S. Anderson-littered pile of disappointing game adaptations.
If National Treasure is the poor man’s Indiana Jones, then Uncharted is the poor man’s National Treasure. But as someone who genuinely loves National Treasure, I can understand how this may be a riot for some. It’s incredibly silly, vibrant and some of the jokes even land (thanks largely to Mark Wahlberg). Having seen even a snippet of the source material’s brilliance, though, it’s very difficult not to feel a bit of contempt towards this film as a soulless cash grab piggybacking off an established IP (and one created by one of the most successful women in the gaming world, Amy Hennig). Nevertheless, if you’re just in the mood to go to the movies for a jaunt before the border opens, Uncharted might almost be worth the trip to a potential exposure site. 4/10.
Uncharted is in cinemas now.