Movie Review: Uncharted

We, here in Hong Kong, are one of the last markets to come to the party but UNCHARTED has finally washed up on our shores, four months after it was released in the US and pretty much everywhere else. With the film slated to drop on Netflix next month, the local Sony/Columbia distributor must have felt that it’s either now or never.

If you’re not a gamer, and I’m not, you may not be aware that UNCHARTED is director Ruben Fleischer’s (the ZOMBIELAND films; VENOM) film adaptation of Sony’s hugely successful videogame series of the same name. Here, Tom Holland (the SPIDER-MAN films) plays the series’ protagonist, Nathan “Nate” Drake, a character who is as agile as Spider-man but without the moral character. The film serves as a prequel of sorts to the videogame with the first scene devoted to Drake’s childhood in a Christian orphanage along with his brother, Sam. After they get caught trying to steal a map of  Magellan’s expedition from a Boston museum, Sam gets the boot but he takes off before the police can put him in juvie. Fast forward 15 years or so, and Nick is bartending in New York City when he meets Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg, MILE 22; DEEPWATER HORIZON), an old friend of Sam’s. Sully has been trying to find the missing gold treasure from that expedition — something that history and legend buff Nate is well aware of — and he thinks he knows where it is. To get it, though, he needs to steal a jewel-encrusted key that is about to go up for auction and Nate is the guy who can help him do it. The problem is that the wealthy Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas, HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD; PAIN AND GLORY; LIFE ITSELF) also wants the key and he has the money and the people at his disposal. Along with Sully’s partner-in-crime Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali, TV’s GREY’S ANATOMY), Nate and Sully’s globetrotting adventure takes them first to Barcelona and then to a remote island in the Philippines but Moncada’s henchwoman,  Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, TV’s CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA), and her crew are in hot pursuit every step of the way.

UNCHARTED charts some very familiar cinematic ground with such films as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, NATIONAL TREASURE and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN coming to mind. In that department, UNCHARTED is a vastly inferior cousin. Holland and Wahlberg make for a good pair of mismatched treasure-hunting buddies but there are far too many times in the film where the actors are talking into a void and the editor is splicing the conversations together in post-production. Then there are the film’s villains, Moncada and Braddock, neither of whom is as fleshed out as much as they need to be. One would have hoped that Moncada would be as diabolical as any evil character in a James Bond film but he doesn’t come close. As for Braddock, scowling and running around in a form-fitting leather outfit might work in a videogame but it doesn’t cut it on the big screen especially when water is involved. The story is rife with leaps of logic and absurdity, and I’m not just referring to the obviously green-screened scene of Nate leaping up cargo containers while falling at 120 mph, which is strangely teased in the film’s cold open and then repeated in the third act. Why, for example, is Nate’s phone still able to work — and send data, no less! — after he dives into the sea? And don’t get me started on the story’s climax involving the galleons. Okay, it’s a videogame but try to get a little closer to believability.

Critics are, for the most part, slamming this film for the same reasons and more (like the oppressive score) as me but audiences — presumably fans of the game — are liking it. UNCHARTED is not a complete washout though, and I’m prepared to give the franchise another chance. It seems I’ll have that opportunity in the inevitable sequel, which is teased in the post-film credits. At least with Pilou Asbaek (GHOST IN THE SHELL; TV’s GOT), whose name appears in the credits even before he appears on screen, as that film’s villain, audiences might be in for a more exciting ride than this.

UNCHARTED opens in Hong Kong tomorrow (June 23rd). It will start streaming on Netflix on July 15th.

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