Review: “Uncharted”—This Game-to-Movie Adaptation Loses its ‘Treasure’ in Translation

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, the new action-adventure release, “Uncharted,” is an adaptation of the renowned video game series of the same name. Despite its compelling source material, the movie’s somewhat exciting thrills and effort to entertain amount to nothing more than a generic action movie with soapy writing and quippy characters. While Nathan “Nate” Drake (Tom Holland) lives as an ordinary bartender, his adventurer’s spirit is ‘unlocked’ after meeting treasure-hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who recruits him on a mission to recover a 500-year-old lost fortune amassed by explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The two embark on a globe-trotting adventure to find $5 billion worth of missing treasure, a voyage that takes them from Barcelona cathedrals to jumping off planes above the Philippines. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Video game adaptations to the big screen are problematic due to one of these issues: either a movie struggles with fitting 40-50 hours of gameplay into two hours, or a movie has to flesh out the thin narrative of a game into a two-hour movie. “Uncharted” somehow manages to fall into both of these traps. The movie decides to compile and condense all of Uncharted’s greatest elements—picking its favorite moments, characters, and setpieces across all four games. While this work appeals to the collective fanbase nostalgia, it makes the movie needlessly convoluted. What is supposed to be a simple adventure film becomes hard to follow at times. Fan-favorite characters like Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) and Sam Drake (Rudy Pankow)—Nate’s long-lost brother—from the second and fourth “Uncharted” games are notable and unique additions to the movie. Yet, their appearances seem to act as fanservice or throwaway plot instigators; Sam especially loses most of the charm and personality that made him so lovable in the games. Moreover, the film tries to provide a novel experience for audiences through subverting their expectations, but this makes the already complicated network of characters in the movie even more difficult to keep track of. Chloe double-crosses Nate, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) replaces the main antagonist halfway through, and Sam—who was thought to be alive—is revealed to be dead, only to then be revealed as alive again. These plot points all feel cheap and distract from what the focus of the movie should be. The “Uncharted” series is first-and-foremost an action series, and while the immersion of the action carries the game, the same is not translated to the movie. 

If “Uncharted”—as a game—is known for anything, it’s the mind-blowing designs of the setpieces. Hanging off a train only inches away from falling off a mountain, escaping an exploding sinking ship, and being dragged by a car around the city streets are all notable scenes involving Nathan Drake that are artfully depicted with the realistic rendering style of the video game. Luckily, those iconic setpieces have been successfully integrated and happen to be the best part of the movie. Right from the film’s introduction, a dynamic cinematography sequence follows Nate free-falling in the air after being thrown out of a plane—a scene that will be familiar to game fans and is a delight to watch. Afterwards, the movie goes almost an entire hour without any full-on action scenes; there are limited teases here and there, but nothing major occurs. At the end of the movie, Nate and Sully find the treasure hidden in two ships, only for the ships to be carried in the air by helicopters. Nate has to fight off a small army while the two ships collide with each other and nearby hills. As a set piece that was not in the games, this scene maximized the potential of using an IMAX screen, creating a feeling of being ‘encapsulated’ for the audience. When Nate puts on his classic shoulder holster, and the iconic “Uncharted” music theme hits, you can’t help but buy into the spectacle. Despite some instances lacking the excitement it seems to promise, the movie’s extravaganzas still make it an enjoyable watch.

Finally, it’s important to address the controversial casting of the movie. The movie decides to age every character down, and therefore you get castings like Mark Wahlberg as Sully, a character that is supposed to be 65 in the original game. While this doesn’t make the movie worse by itself, it changes the dynamics of the characters and disrupts a sense of immersion. Sully is not only supposed to be a father figure for Nate but also a long-time partner and mentor—these two establish a deeper connection of trust that underlines their light-hearted banter and friendship. Instead, Walhberg plays the character with almost no charisma, and the quippy interactions between him and Nate, which are highlights in the game, fall flat due to delivery and writing. Additionally, with the lackluster writing extending to nearly the entire cast of main characters, Nate and especially Chloe lose the charm that made their characters so likable in the games. While Tom Holland does a great job playing his character, this version of the character feels less unique, like it could have come from any other action movie.

With its convoluted plot and janky writing, “Uncharted” might not be a movie that sticks with you, but the movie’s exhilarating set pieces and fast pacing are enough to immerse you at the moment; for that and all of the above, it gets 3 out of 5 stars.