“UNCHARTED” Movie Review

Sony’s adaptation of “UNCHARTED” releases nationwide February 18th, and so with as much restraint on spoilers as possible, here’s what I experienced.

“Uncharted,” tells the story of Nathan Drake as he attempts to engage with and combat the adventurers surrounding a treasure that he and his brother once dreamed of finding together.

THE GOOD: Despite there being so many set-pieces from the games that the movie feels like it’s using them like building blocks, this doesn’t feel like a re-tread or “greatest hits,” and that is the result on one prominent, key feature: the characters.

It’s easy to write off Drake as a standard protagonist, Sully a mentor, Chloe a love interest, and Braddock a stock villain, but it would be a lie to dismiss that Tom Holland brings out the characters yearning for his brother and connection with others, while playing off the characters learned sleight-of-hand and readiness for action. Mark Wahlberg plays the right amount of jaded to make him believable as someone who wants you to believe all he cares for is gold. Sophia Ali seemed to care that her character is not going to be swayed in the arc of one movie to trust anyone, and few relationships in blockbusters are explored through moments of earning trust, or through more than just flirtation and grief for empathy. Tati Gabrielle stood head to head with Antonio Banderas and grew around him from villain-for-hire to genuine cutthroat threat for the heroes. Despite the struggles of being able to follow and see their efforts on screen, these characters are fully realized and cared for.

Mark Wahlberg, in particular, is an interesting case. He full-on plays Nathan Drake earlier in the movie, and it was enough to give the impression that his character was an adaptation of the idea of a mentor who helped Drake grow into his own- that he was the Nathan Drake of the games here to teach a new Nathan Drake how to carry the franchise into a new medium. Sullivan’s role was a thief to whom Nathan Drake looked up in the games, it makes sense here to have his character serve as a broader form of guide for the character both on and off screen. Wahlberg was famously cast as Nathan Drake at one point in this movie’s long road to the screen, and was also Max Payne, suggesting he was cast, in part, due to familiarity with game adaptations.

The action direction, specifically in regards to what physically occurred on set, is competent, exciting, fast, and smooth when it needs to be. The ambition for utilizing Holland as a stunt performer comes through, and despite many layers of digital effects, hidden cutting, and the usual modern movie-magic that can make an image feel over processed, it still feels, at times, like Holland’s life is at risk… at times…

(Not on screen as much as she should have been)

THE NOT SO GOOD: Most times, however, it’s like the story is fighting the director and editors to tell itself. The movie opens, for example, with an (in my opinion) unnecessary splitting of the “Uncharted 3” inspired plane/crate set piece, and the first thing we see Tom Holland do when he awakens as Nathan Drake is defend himself, getting a grip on a swinging crate and kicking away a nameless villain who attempts to attack him. Then- just as ‘Spider-Man’ would– Holland yells that he’s sorry and it was his first instinct. When we revisit this sequence later, and when we return we know Drake caused everyone to be hanging in the air, that he wants revenge for his brother, and that there’s no reason for him to be sorry. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, seeing moments of Drake knocking guns out of the hands of people trying to kill him and running without shooting. Then I saw the “hero shot” of him wearing his newly found iconic holster in the third act, and I realized: this was Drake’s arc.

Victor Sullivan had been warning Drake about trusting people, pushing him to walk away or chase someone or defend himself, and I am now willing to bet (well… not a lot but some) money that this Nathan Drake initially refused to shoot a gun and this was left on the cutting room floor, both to maintain a PG-13 rating and to avoid ‘Spider-Man’ potentially looking to children like he learns lethal violence is his any form of answer to any problem (which is odd… given “instant kill mode”). The characters grow together, make choices, and become who fans of the game might know them as by the mid-credits scene, but constantly there are hints of removed beats, like Drake and Chloe dancing at the club they temporarily visit, or rapidly dumped exposition on sidewalks earlier in the movie.

I really enjoy most of the work I’ve seen from Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland,” “Gangster Squad,” “Venom,” etc.), but constantly it feels like he makes a movie he’s happy with then is asked by a studio to edit it to near-death. Any movie of his that features a PG-13 problem has clear signs of being rated R but suffers from taking away the consequences of more adult-oriented entertainment. The most egregious example of this in “Uncharted” is a character having their throat “slit.” The character’s neck is plainly visible for a good 3-5 seconds and there is no digital or make-up effect. Then, in a wide shot, the most hilariously tiny thread of “blood” avoids touching their clothing, and I almost snorted with laughter while sitting way too close to people for that.

Other notable moments of concern include a “Papa John’s” product placement and a cameo directed so ham-fistedly that without ever having seen him knew immediately it was Nolan North, the voice of Nathan Drake from the games. (This is led to by such an odd moment. Chloe asks Drake if he’s “seeing this” and Drake notes there’s no land for miles, turns, and they both look like they discovered a new country… but it’s just a populated beach.) Also, Nathan Drake’s replacement for a fear of snakes is… nuns, which would be funny if it weren’t delivered as a nod to Indiana Jones, then beaten to death within a few scenes.

IN THE END: “Uncharted,” is an adventure of stunts, set design, characters adapted from the games, rather than actors doing their best impression, playing effectively through the action to develop bonds, grow, and decide who they want to be… and all of it is either edited out of frame, smashed together with rapid pacing, or directed two feet too close to everyone, and the stakes are constantly muted by PG-13 violence with little to no consequence.

I wonder if there’s wider images in the I-MAX release of this, because it would help a lot, but I also hope there’s simply more that could be added in an “extended cut” that isn’t so beholden to making the movie safer for children. It’s worth a watch, and likely to be most fun in a theater.

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