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Uncharted film review: This is how you don’t adapt a video game

Tom Holland stars as Indi—er, as Nathan Drake in Columbia Pictures' <em>Uncharted</em>.
Enlarge / Tom Holland stars as Indi—er, as Nathan Drake in Columbia Pictures’ Uncharted.

Columbia Pictures

Imagine a video game sequel where pretty much everything fans liked about the original is gone. There’s less action, simpler puzzles, boring environments, plot holes big enough to drive a “Hog Wild” seaplane through, and, perhaps worst of all, dull dialogue. This imaginary game opens with an interminable 80-minute cut scene, only to be followed by an energetic action sequence that recalls the original game’s best, most swashbuckling moments.

That’s what the first-ever Uncharted film feels like. It’s based on the popular PlayStation-exclusive game series of the same name, and it stars the same main characters. But while it’s reminiscent of Indiana Jones, the movie doesn’t have the same breezy, comical, action-packed magic of that franchise—or of the Uncharted games. How wild that a video game delivers better movie-like thrills than its live-action version.

A brief glimpse of gold

"Professor, what's another word for pirate treasure?" "Drake, stop asking me that question."
Enlarge / “Professor, what’s another word for pirate treasure?” “Drake, stop asking me that question.”

Columbia Pictures

The final scene is the only decent part of this movie, so I’ll start there. Like its namesake game series, this week’s theatrical exclusive is all about adventurers surviving fistfights and solving mysteries while searching for an ancient-treasure jackpot. Uncharted‘s booty is a doozy: two stranded, treasure-filled pirate ships, somehow hidden from all satellite and radar imaging or explorers for over 500 years. A villain captures the ships and decides to airlift them via helicopters.

But series hero Nathan Drake (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and his accomplice Sully (Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter) got to the ships first and stowed away on one of them. Whoosh—into the air they go, at which point they attempt a sky-pirate heist.

Most of the film's scenes with both Drake and Sully play out like this: boring and in the dark.
Enlarge / Most of the film’s scenes with both Drake and Sully play out like this: boring and in the dark.

Columbia Pictures

The camera follows the subsequent nonsense, which involves our heroes climbing ancient ship ropes and bouncing clumsily into combat. There are rope-assisted mid-air leaps between flying ships, and the men somehow get into full-blown sword fights in the year 2022. At this point, the film sees no reason to hide its intention: to deliver the most satisfying, CGI-fueled Indiana Jones fight a film has seen in years.

Holland and Wahlberg wait until this end-of-film scene to settle into a groove. The fighting is limber and comedic, and the banter between the two leads is genuinely funny for the first time in the entire film.

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