Uncharted, by Cameron J. Czaja

Aside from watching and critiquing films, video gaming is one hobby that I have enjoyed doing on a weekly basis dating back to my youth. While I have played many consoles, one brand in particular that I have always liked playing is the PlayStation series from the first console to PlayStation 4. I am still working on getting a PlayStation 5. One of my favorite video game series on the PlayStation 3 and 4 is the Uncharted games from Naughty Dog, which has been given the Hollywood treatment and adapted the property into a feature length film.

When I heard that Uncharted was finally going to be released, I was very, very skeptical. Mostly because the games themselves are equivalent to Hollywood blockbusters and I wasn’t sure how a live action movie would live up to that level. One top of that, video game movies don’t have the greatest track record. Other than Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019) and Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), I can’t think of one video game movie that was decent. I know some people would argue that the 1995 Mortal Kombat is the best video game movie. However, I can’t really say that with confidence because I’ve never seen that film, though it can’t be worse than the 2021 reboot. I’m getting off track. Anyway, was Uncharted not only a decent film but one that made me like it as much as the games I fell in love with? As usual let’s find out. 

In this video game adaptation, in Uncharted we find our protagonist Nathan Drake (Tiernan Jones) attempting to rob a map with his brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) in a museum. This isn’t any ordinary map. This map is supposed to be the first world map made after the Magellan’s sixteenth century circumnavigation. While attempting to steal it, the two brothers get caught and Sam is forced to leave the orphanage the boys are currently living in because it was his third strike. Before the authorities take Sam away, he sneaks out but is caught by Nathan who then promises his little brother that he will return for him. Before leaving, he gives Nathan a ring necklace belonging to their ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, with the inscription “Sic Parvis Magna,” which is “Greatness from small beginnings” in Latin. Fifteen years later, a much older Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is now living in New York City working as a bar tender while also pickpocketing wealthy customers. During one shift, after stealing a bracelet from a patron, Nate runs into a new guest by the name of Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) who offers him a job. Nathan respectfully declines, though takes his business card with his information. After finishing his shift, Nate notices that the bracelet he stole was missing and comes to the conclusion that it was retaken by Sully. Using the information from the business card, Nathan tracks down Sully’s place and the two interact again, where he finds out more information about him. As it turns out, Sully knew Nathan’s brother Sam and had worked together to find hidden treasure from the Magellan expedition. The two even stole Juan Sebastian Elcano’s diary, which is the key to finding the treasure hidden for five hundred years, and estimated to be worth billions of dollars. The reason why Sully goes to Nathan about this opportunity is because after Sam and Sully found the diary, Sam disappears and Sully believes Nathan may be the next best thing given the knowledge he has about the expedition. Fortunately for Sully, Nathan takes the job offer. Their first stop in their quest for treasure is an auction where they plan to steal a golden cross set for auction, which is linked to the Moncada crew. While at the event, Sully disguises himself as an auctioneer while Nathan plans to create a distraction in order for Sully to steal it. The plan starts to go sideways when Nathan runs into Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who happens to be the last descendant of the Moncada family who is responsible for the expedition centuries ago. Santiago also wants to golden cross and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it, even if he has to kill a few men. After getting past Santiago and his henchman, both Nathan and Sully get the golden cross and head towards Barcelona where the treasure is supposed to be hidden. There they met up with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), an old colleague of Sully who has a second cross which is needed to locate the treasure. After Chloe fails to double cross them, the three decide that they need to start trusting each other and from there work together in order to find the lost treasure. 

When it comes to the Uncharted video games, I can list several reasons why I love that franchise. It’s fun to play/watch, it has great cinematic cutscenes that rival Hollywood blockbusters, filled with unique premises, and it has a charismatic protagonist that you can’t help but love in Nathan Drake. Those elements are what I wish were in this adaptation because other than a few things that caught my eye, I was really bored watching this film. This is disappointing to say given my love for the series. Ugh…

The first thing that was a major red flag for me when watching Uncharted was the characters in the film. Now, I’m fully aware that actors and actress playing a role from an established property is not going to be 100% accurate, but it’s not much asking for some similarities. Take Tom Holland playing Nathan Drake, for example. The whole time watching him play the young adventurer, I it felt like I was watching Peter Parker from the Spider-Man films playing Nathan Drake. Now it may be because I just saw him play our favorite web-slinging hero two months ago, but there are certain similarities to both of the characters that it was hard to tell the difference most of the time. I will say, though, that he at least had the physique and certain characteristics to play Nathan Drake, unlike Mark Wahlberg who played Sully. To give a little background of the character of Sully from the games, he’s a rugged tough son of a gun who sounds nothing like Mark Wahlberg. The only reason I can think of why he was cast as Sully is because he was originally going to play Nathan Drake when they announced the news of the film adaptation dating back in 2010. This project has been in development hell for so long now that Mark Wahlberg is now too old to play Nathan Drake. Then again, that was probably for the best.  

Another major issue that I have with the film where is the narrative itself. As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons why I love the games is each of their premise. The first game tilted Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune surrounded the idea of El Dorado with a unique twist on the legend. The second game titled Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, focused on the city of Shambhala. The third game titled Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception explored the lost city of Iram of the Pillars. Lastly the fourth game titled Uncharted: A Thief’s End focused on the lost treasure of pirate Henry Avery. Aside from the fourth entry, the first three games had a supernatural twist to them which isolated themselves from your cliché, run of the mill treasure hunter narratives that made me admire the series even more. Unchartedthe movie, unfortunately, uses story elements from the fourth game which was, in my opinion, not the right direction. The reason being is because while I love Uncharted 4 for the narrative, visuals, and gameplay, the premise itself didn’t impress me compared to the first three entries, but it had the elements previously mentioned to make it a fun game. Put it in a full-length feature film, however, it falls flat. 

By the way in case you have wondering, I may seem more biased towards Uncharted because of my deep appreciation of the video game franchise. I do realize it’s hard to isolate your feelings from one former medium to another. It’s like when someone loves a book but hates the film adaptation because they didn’t do everything that they wanted to see. My only counter argument to that is that it’s been shown have potential a film not only through gameplay from the games, but through a fan film. Back in 2018, actor Nathan Fillion played Nathan Drake in a fourteen-minute Uncharted short film, which featured a narrative that mimicked the games. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty entertaining, and it pleased not only the fans, but people unaware of the video game series. I was really hoping that we would get something like that but with a bigger budget and a longer run time. But, sadly, we didn’t.

Now I know it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention things that I liked in Uncharted. For example, there were some impressive action scenes that felt like they were from the games. The one scene from the trailers involving a plane and cargo shipments is directly lifted from the third game Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Another thing that I enjoyed in this film was the cameo of Nolan North who voiced Nathan Drake in the game. It’s not a lengthy scene, but I got goosebumps when I heard that iconic voice on the big screen. Through a Catholic perspective, something that I enjoyed in film that’s set in different locations was the Catholic imagery, not in the spiritual sense but more in the background itself. When Nate, Sully, and Chloe wander around Barcelona you do get a glimpse of the Catholic architecture that surrounds the city that not only I enjoyed seeing, but I hope some non-Catholics enjoyed viewing as well. And lastly there are the cliché moments of redemption of certain characters that value a life of someone else over riches. It’s a predictable act, but I’m glad they featured it.

Overall, if you haven’t experienced an Uncharted game before and want to watch a mediocre treasure hunting film, then you may enjoy this film. Or better yet, just watch the fan made film starring Nathan Fillion on YouTube. It’s entertaining and it captures the spirit of the games in just fourteen minutes. Again, I may sound biased in this review because I have such admiration for the franchise. I even have the Sic Parvis Magna ring necklace from the games/movie. I even thought about going into detail about the weak screenplay and cliché side characters in this review, but I felt like it would be more interesting to give my perspective on something that I had deep knowledge on. One silver lining I can think of after watching Uncharted is that I now want to replay an Uncharted game. Not sure which one, but it’ll be more entertaining than what I saw. 

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