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‘Uncharted’ can’t quite find itself

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The history of movies derived from video games is … well, let’s just call it checkered. While there have been a handful that have proven successful from a financial standpoint, the overall quality of films within the genre hasn’t been great.

Meanwhile, the history of movies that have languished in development hell for a decade or more? Also checkered. It’s rare for a film to be stuck in limbo for that long to make its way out and prove a success. Not unprecedented, but rare.

“Uncharted” is both.

The new film – based on the wildly popular video game series of the same name – has been in development since 2008. That’s 14 years (though some of that time on this end was obviously lost to the pandemic) – so long that co-star Mark Wahlberg was actually attached to play the lead role occupied by Tom Holland at one point. So it finally made it to the screen after a long journey through the wilderness. And the final verdict?

Meh.

While there’s some fun to be had here, the overall experience feels like less than the sum of its parts. I’ll concede a lack of familiarity with the games, but “Uncharted” feels like a CGI-heavy knockoff of much better movies. The plot meanders and the character arcs don’t make much sense and the entire third act is hot nonsense. That said, I didn’t have a terrible time. Not a great time, but not a terrible one. Your mileage may vary.

In a prologue of sorts, we meet a pair of brothers breaking into a Boston museum. Their attempt to steal the map made after the Magellan expedition is foiled, leading to the elder brother – Sam – being arrested at the orphanage where the two live. The younger brother – Nathan – watches as Sam flees into the night to avoid incarceration.

Fifteen years later, Nathan (Tom Holland) has grown up to become a bartender and small-time petty thief living in New York City. One night, he has a seemingly chance encounter with a guy by the name of Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). Sully is a fortune hunter who is in pursuit of Magellan’s lost treasure – the very same treasure that was an object of fascination for Nathan and his brother. A brother, by the way, that once worked alongside Sully.

His curiosity piqued by the possibility of tracking down his long-lost brother, Nathan joins Sully in his quest. It starts with an antiquities auction there in New York City, one where we meet Italian billionaire Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a man who believes the Magellan treasure is his by birthright. Nathan and Sully also cross paths – and swords – with a mercenary named Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), a former acquaintance of Sully’s who has her own agenda.

From there, we’re spanning the globe, following the clues in a mysterious journal that Nathan proves uniquely qualified to interpret. In Spain, the two make contact with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), another person who knows and deeply distrusts Sully. From there, this tentative trio starts digging deeper, seeking to discern the path to the treasure. It’s a path that will take them into some dark place, both figurative and literal.

It becomes a race to see who can both solve the puzzle of the treasure’s location and get there in time to claim it, with loads of action and plenty of quips along the way.

That’s probably more plot than you need as far as “Uncharted” is concerned. The truth is that what happens on screen doesn’t often make a lot of sense. The narrative unravels upon even a cursory examination. Of course, movies like this don’t really need to make sense, so long as they’re briskly paced and interesting to look at.

The game was heavily inspired by the Indiana Jones films. The film leans into that inspiration – and it leans hard. There are lines of dialogue clearly intended as a nod to those films. There are action sequences meant to be homage. Hell, they even travel by map – you know what I’m talking about, the image of a plane overlaid on a map with a red line tracing the journey. It’s all extremely familiar.

Here’s the deal. If you have somehow never seen an Indiana Jones movie, “Uncharted” might well blow your mind. If you have seen one, then you’ve basically already seen “Uncharted.”

Now, this movie could have been an unmitigated disaster. It isn’t. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but you can certainly conceive of a much worse version. Frankly, all the pieces are in place for this to be terrible – it’s unoriginal, it’s convoluted, it’s overstuffed – but it largely avoids that fate thanks primarily to one person.

Tom Holland.

It’s a wonderful performance from Holland, who is somehow finding his way into the upper echelon of action moviedom. He is both quick-witted AND athletic – too often, our action performers are one or the other. He can handle the physical demands and the quippy banter with equal aplomb. He is charming and unrelentingly likeable. He simply makes this role work.

His castmates are more of a mixed bag. Wahlberg is fine, though he seems like he’s going through the motions. Banderas was a weird choice, made weirder by the fact that he never really goes for it in the way you might want. Gabrielle and Ali might be good performers, but the movie never really gives them much of a chance to prove it one way or the other. Nobody totally bombs, but neither do they shine. It really is the Tom Holland show, for (mostly) better and (occasionally) worse.

“Uncharted” is built for a sequel and will almost certainly get one. Probably more than one. And that’s OK. Popcorn-chomping action flicks will always have their place. Let’s just cross our fingers that the people making these ones don’t get even more lost than they already are.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 21 February 2022 11:16

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