The phrase “video game movies are never good” has been repeated ad nauseum over the years, and it’s easy to understand why. Studios have tried time and time again to adapt the ever expanding medium of video games into film only for it to fail spectacularly. One of the most common reasons cited for this repeated failure is that video games just don’t have enough narrative material present to extract a good movie from. However, with Sony’s Uncharted, things were looking to be different. The original game series is well known for its narrative, to the point that a high praise for the games is even how similar they feel to adventure movies such as Indiana Jones. But after years of delays and production woes, doubts once again began to circle the movie. Now that it’s finally out, has the video game movie curse been broken once and for all? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
Following the globe-charting adventures of Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) and his mentor Sully (Mark Wahlberg) as they search for lost gold, Uncharted actually takes place before any of the games, telling a story that “gamers haven’t seen before” as stated by Tom Holland in an interview. As such, the characters aren’t necessarily the same as they are in the games, with Mark Wahlberg’s Sully feeling much closer to Nathan Drake in the games than Tom Holland’s young and more pure-hearted portrayal of the character. Considering the movie lifts some scenes completely from the games however, it becomes a bit confusing to decipher how much of an adaptation the film is really meant to be. In fact, it ends up feeling like more of a standard action blockbuster with an Uncharted skin placed over it than an actual adaptation at all. So how is it at being that?
Uncharted’s quality was always going to rest firmly on two aspects. Fun action and exploration, and the dynamic between the two characters and how their relationship develops. Let’s start with the one the movie does well.
As the main characters travel to exotic locales such as Barcelona and encounter new settings and obstacles, the film does a good job of creating suspense and excitement in new ways throughout. A few times the film achieves this in ways that feel genuinely fresh when compared to other blockbusters that have been released in recent years. One of the main sequences the movie advertised heavily was one in which Nathan Drake is pushed off of a plane by a car, and while this sequence is certainly enjoyable (and contains a little nod for fans of the game franchise), it’s far from the only example. Apart from traditional exploration fare such as spikes shooting up from the ground or arrows shooting from the wall, other scenes such as a chamber that’s slowly filling with water that two characters are trapped in and a fight scene inside a shady dance club both take advantage of their locations to create inventive moments that will definitely entertain audiences.
If only the writing felt as entertaining.
Unfortunately, this movie falls victim to one of the biggest problems currently facing modern blockbusters, an over-abundance of unfunny quips. Now, quipping is actually entirely in character for Drake and Sully based on their relationship within the games, but the difference there is that the jokes actually feel, well, funny. In the case of the movie however, all the attempts at banter come across as the result of a group full of executives in a boardroom trying to wrack their brains over the safest jokes that “kids these days” would find funny. Jokes about the age difference between the two, Scottish accents and cat ownership are dispensed over and over again and, besides a few exceptions, each one elicited little more than a groan. Credit to Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, who do at least have enough chemistry for the lines to not feel as painful as they could have.
Comedy isn’t the only aspect of the writing where things fall flat however, as the movie’s continued “twists” in which one character betrays another time and time again wears increasingly thin. A series of double crosses between Nathan Drake, Sully and Chloe (Sophia Ali), the semi-love interest for Drake, take place throughout the movie. These are all for the purpose of hammering the idea of “don’t trust anyone” into the audience’s head. After the third or fourth time a character turns on another the lesson is already learned, and it’s all in service of the most predictable possible conclusion to that particular narrative theme.
On the whole, while Uncharted may not be a particularly faithful adaptation, it’s certainly one of the better movies that are trying to be adaptations of video games, and is a fun enough time for anyone looking for a new blockbuster to turn their brain off to. If only it could have been at least a little bit more