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Review: Uncharted

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you asked me to pick someone to play a wisecracking, athletic, slightly-buff video game character, Tom Holland wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of my list. When I heard that he had been cast as wisecracking, athletic, slightly-buff video game guy Nathan Drake I was a little surprised. After the success of Marvel’s Spider-Man trilogy, it makes sense that Holland is the hottest thing in Hollywood at the moment, but comic goofball Peter Parker is a far cry from wisecracking treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Holland does a decent job as Nathan Drake, but for me, he represents how Uncharted gets so close to greatness and just falls short. But first some context.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released on PlayStation 3, published by Naughty Dog (the people behind mascot platformers Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter), and represented a trend in the games industry of increasingly ‘cinematic’ games. Whilst that trend reached its nadir with 2010’s Heavy Rain, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and its three sequels are far better examples of more successful cinematic games. The games follow treasure hunter Nathan Drake (descendant of Sir Frances Drake) seeking various bounties, concluding in many different ways. Drake is a really fun protagonist, and the stories are pretty entertaining, but to be honest, the best way to experience them is through watching the cutscenes on Youtube. The cover-based combat is frustrating and dull and a lot of the platforming is uninvolved. 

Uncharted (2022) is both a sequel to the games and not. It shows Nathan Drake’s first adventure with his partner Sully (Mark Wahlberg) and series regular Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a search for Ferdinand Magellan’s lost ships. It does set up the events of Drake’s Fortune but at the same time borrows several set pieces, most notably a fight in a cargo plane, from later games. To me the film feels a little unsure of what it wants to be, not wanting to constrain itself to be a prequel to the games but not fully moving away from the story the four games tell. And this is where we return to Tom Holland.

Holland is fine as Nathan Drake. He does sometimes feel a bit too powerful and video-gamey for a film, with his only real character flaw being that he’s just too nice and trusting. For an origin story, we don’t really see Drake learn how to be a treasure hunter. He’s just good at everything almost immediately, whether it be parkouring around Barcelona or translating old Latin texts which the professional treasure hunters don’t seem to understand. The film does explain away why Drake is already so skilled, but him being so skilled straight away undercuts the emotional journey of Drake’s induction into the dangerous world of treasure hunting. Drake is also just not as charismatic as he is in the games. Holland’s signature style of slightly awkward yet charming doesn’t really work with Drake’s character, although honestly, it didn’t bother me that much.As a popcorn movie, Uncharted is great. The characters are all likeable (or hateable) enough to get emotionally invested in. The story is dumb but fun. Other than a couple of bits of dodgy CGI and green screen the action looks great, and there are the perfect amount of set pieces. Don’t go into this expecting something massively deep or original, but if you want to turn your brain off for two hours and enjoy some jokes and explosions, Uncharted is perfect. Please give me more game adaptations like this and less Mortal Kombat and Sonic.

Image courtesy of Tim Bartel via Wikicomms