The best way to describe Sony’s Uncharted is to say that, in all likelihood, it is exactly the film you expect it to be. Casting missteps aside, director Ruben Fleischer delivers a perfectly harmless adventure flick that meets the low bar set by its popcorn premise. But Uncharted offers so little in the way of original ideas that many will be left wondering why the project exists in the first place. Those new to Nathan Drake and his video game exploits will find more to enjoy here than fans of the beloved PlayStation franchise, though anyone who possesses a passing familiarity with the action movie genre should prepare to leave this treasure hunt feeling no richer.
Charismatic, if miscast, leads
Devoid of original ideas
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Uncharted feels like a movie that was always destined to disappoint. For starters, a feature-length adaptation of Naughty Dog’s immensely popular video game franchise had been the subject of Hollywood mutterings for over a decade. During that time, six different directors – including David O. Russell, Shawn Levy and Travis Knight – periodically attached and detached themselves from the project before Venom filmmaker Ruben Fleischer finally bit the bullet in 2020.
Spider-Man star Tom Holland joined the cast in 2017, but only after Mark Wahlberg – who signed on to proceedings over a decade ago – stepped aside as the movie’s lead to instead play the wily mentor, Victor "Sully" Sullivan, to Holland’s younger Nathan “Nate” Drake.
The intervening years saw several scripts bounce around the desks of various studios, while the cast and crew behind the still-performing Uncharted game series slalomed between endorsement, skepticism and indifference towards the seemingly cursed Hollywood project.
So, how does the final feature fare? Well, let’s just say that Sony’s Uncharted definitely wasn’t worth the grueling odyssey it took to create it.
Plot-wise, Uncharted takes inspiration from the fourth game in Naughty Dog’s series, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, and finds Nathan Drake on the scent of a treasure trove thought to be hidden among the remnants of a historic Portuguese expedition. With fellow explorer Sully in tow, Drake travels across the globe in search of the fortune, all the while trying to outwit a ruthless financier (Antonio Banderas) who believes the gold to be his birthright.
But we’ll come back to all that later – let’s first address the elephant in the room.
Unfortunately, Holland’s casting as Nate – the dashing virtual protagonist of every mainline Uncharted title – instantly became the unwelcome cloud hanging over this long-awaited movie adaptation. Uncharted’s fan-favorite hero is a hunky, stubble-laden adventurer with a Bond-like hardiness – Holland, through no fault of his own, is the antithesis of that description.
It’s understandable, then, that fans of the game series voiced their doubts about the decision so intensely. To his credit, Holland reportedly gained 18 pounds of muscle (while simultaneously training for Spider-Man: No Way Home) in an effort to better match Drake’s in-game physique – and he certainly looks bigger than ever – but fears that the young British actor wouldn’t possess the same rugged charm as the famed treasure hunter were justified.
Still, Holland attacks the role with all the energy we’ve come to expect from the superstar. He puts his choreography skills and boyish enthusiasm to excellent use in some impressive fight sequences and equally daring stunts – but he is not the Nate we know.
None of that would matter, of course, if Uncharted really did center around a younger, more inexperienced protagonist at the beginning of his swashbuckling career. Rafe Lee Judkins’ script is billed as an origin story, predating the first entry in the game series (2007’s Uncharted: Drake's Fortune), that finds Nate ready to learn the tricks of the trade. But there’s very little learning done here.
Although we first meet Holland’s character as a bartender, it doesn’t take long before he’s flipping, fighting and falling his way across various countries on a dangerous quest for lost gold. We’re supposed to believe that this is Nate’s first globe-trotting treasure hunt, yet he is often the one pointing Wahlberg’s Sully and the similarly experienced Chloe (Sophia Ali) in the right direction.
It doesn’t help, either, that the movie dances to the beat of Drake’s final video game outing. While it’s undeniably enjoyable to see Holland wear the character’s iconic henley-holster combo, it all happens far too quickly in a story that supposedly charts his origins.
And then there’s Wahlberg’s Sully. The father figure to Nate, Naughty Dog’s version of Sully is a world-weary explorer who exudes old-school charm – sometimes wise, sometimes wrong, always cool (like Paul Newman in The Color of Money). Here, though, we don’t get the same character. We don’t get the red shirt. We don’t get the mustache. Instead, we get Mark Wahlberg doing his best Mark Wahlberg impression; great for the movie’s humor, but less brilliant for the master-apprentice dynamic between its two main men.
Both leads, then – while undoubtedly charismatic and confident in their respective roles – are fatally miscast, which wouldn’t be a problem if Uncharted told a totally different story.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
And therein lies the second dagger in the movie’s heart. Uncharted does nothing to push the boundaries of its genre nor subvert the expectations of returning fans. It borrows too much from the plot of the fourth game and recycles tired tropes from more established action franchises like Mission: Impossible and Pirates of the Caribbean. Ironically, the events of Uncharted are very charted.
This near total absence of imagination is made worse by an over-reliance on CGI, which often takes away from Holland’s excellent stunt work – the airborne sequence, for instance, is not so much impressive as it is downright ridiculous. Even in moments where we’re encouraged to marvel at Uncharted’s beautiful locations, some obviously animated environments detract from the spectacle.
Again, though, this seems like an inevitable plague of the project. Video game adaptations have come a long way in recent years, but dramatizing a title that already plays like a movie presents a very particular type of challenge. Uncharted 4 is a stunning video game because it lets players do the running, jumping and treasure hunting themselves – it’s nowhere near as much fun to watch Holland and Wahlberg throw goons off the side of a virtual pirate ship.
It must be said that director Ruben Fleischer does the basics well – there is very little to criticize in Uncharted from a technical point of view – but most adult movie-goers will likely feel as though they’ve seen all of this a thousand times over.
In all, then, it’s no wonder that a rocky road to production left Sony’s Uncharted movie gathering dust for over a decade. It isn’t a badly made film, per se, but the project offers almost nothing in terms of added value and contradicts itself with an over-familiar story that’s entirely at odds with its supposedly reinvented characters.
Despite their best efforts, Uncharted’s lead actors will leave returning fans cold, and the movie’s lack of identity – save for some smartly choreographed fight scenes – makes it nothing more than mindless, harmless entertainment.
Forget the treasure; in the inevitable follow-up, Nathan Drake should hunt for some originality, instead.
Uncharted is in UK theaters now and hits US theaters on February 18.
Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.
Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.