Friday 11 February 2022

Uncharted (Movie Review)

In recent years, video games have grown to be more and more cinematic in their scope and ambitions. And nowhere is that push for filmic thrills as evident as in the games in the Uncharted series. At once a riff on Indiana Jones and the various action blockbusters we've gotten since then, those games have perfected the art of delivering jaw-dropping setpiece moments. So one would think that the intellectual property is just prime for adapting into film. But how well does it actually translate into the very medium that served as inspiration for its source material?

The movie cold opens with a scene that seems to offer a glimpse of the many thrills that await within its relatively short runtime. But before long, we find ourselves in flashback territory, as a young Nathan Drake does mischievous deeds with his older brother, Sam. Flash forward to present day and an older Nathan is approached by a man named Victor Sullivan, with an offer to help him find some long lost pirate treasure along with the promise of reuniting him with his estranged brother. Throw in a generic villain by way of Antonio Banderas' Moncada, who is also trying to get to the treasure, and you get the general gist of the movie.
If ever there was a film that illustrates the vast gulf that exists between the movie and video game mediums, then that film is Uncharted. The movie simply lacks much of the spark that made the video games special, instead delivering a run-of-the-mill adventure we've seen done better in other films. I concede that each medium has its own idiosyncrasies, and what works in one doesn't necessarily work in the other. For example, while a game has the benefit of telling its story over the course of as many hours as it has exciting gameplay to sustain its player, its film adaptation has to condense all that storytelling into two hours or less.

But all that said, it is still quite baffling how a property like Uncharted could feel like it was merely ticking off boxes while running on autopilot. The decision to adapt bits and pieces of the various games into one movie doesn't work, as we don't have any of the emotional weight that carried those scenes in the games, due to an overall lack of adequate character development. 
Victor Sullivan doesn't come across as anything more than a jerk for huge swaths of the film, and even Tom Holland's boyish charisma isn't enough to elevate his version of Nathan Drake past the appeal of yet another generic action hero. So when both characters are thrust into increasingly perilous situations over the course of the film, it is hard to truly care. To its credit, the film did have one or two surprises along the way, but none of that really worked to shine a new light on the characters involved. 
But poor character development and average writing aside, how about those setpiece moments the games are known for? Sadly, even those are marred by the same overall blandness that seems to permeate much of the film. Add in the fact that some of the special effects on display were of a questionable quality and one starts to wonder what went wrong. Any fans of the games planning to go into the movie solely to see their favorite setpiece moments recreated would be better off just replaying those moments in the games instead.

The video game movie curse rears its ugly head once again in Uncharted, a middle-of-the-road adventure film that barely does enough to entertain. Anyone coming into the film with the games as a frame of reference would be sorely disappointed with just how bland and generic the entire affair has turned out. This is not to say that the film is without its thrills, as it certainly has some setpiece moments as already disclosed in its trailers. But when those thrills feel so tame and watered-down compared to the source material's, it is hard to come out of the movie feeling any kind of satisfaction.