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Undefined characters and an underwhelming story send Uncharted into uninspired territory.

Fortune and Glory

Nathan Drake (Tom Holland)
Nathan Drake (Tom Holland)

The first logo on the screen is for PlayStation Productions. Yeah. Uncharted’s based on a videogame, but it’s time to move past that stigma. We are, after all, living in a world in which Hasbro and Mattel have movie production units and a flock of angry birds is deemed worthy of cinematic treatment.

In fairness, the Uncharted games should serve as great source material for big screen theatrical adventures. Nathan Drake could be right up there with Lara Croft, Jack Sparrow and Indiana Jones.

But this oft-delayed production has plenty of narrative and characterization problems that have nothing to do with the fact its source material came in the form of ones and zeroes.

There’s nothing really at stake in Uncharted. The story follows a pair of not-entirely-likable treasure hunters in their pursuit of a $5 billion haul of gold dating back to Magellan’s global trek. It’s all about self-enrichment; Nathan has a phenomenal knowledge of history — it’s like he lived it — but he doesn’t have a shred of altruism or an appreciation of the treasure’s historical significance for the rest of the world.

In fact, he’s kind of a punk. Move past the superficiality of Tom Holland’s gratuitous beefcake scenes and his Nathan Drake is actually just a brat looking to score (gold, that is). Great effort is made to give him a backstory with an extended opening involving him as a pre-teen getting into trouble with his older brother back in the days of their living in an orphanage while holding onto a family fable that they’re descendants of Sir Francis Drake. It’s humble beginnings stuff.

But then the movie cuts to 15 years later — the present day — and Nathan’s now an adult making his way as a bartender. And a thief. He steals a bracelet from a young, beautiful customer. Sure, she’s a little bit of a snob, but his slick pickpocket actions make him a complete, self-serving jerk. Any sympathy engendered in those openings scenes is gone. Not lost. Gone.

It’s a distinction that becomes something of a refrain in Uncharted: “If something’s lost it can be found.” That’s the kind of bumper sticker philosophy Nathan’s lost (or is he gone?) brother would send to him on postcards from around the world. Each one had simple phrases. There’s deeper meaning to be had, of course, but it’s not visible to the naked eye.

The Holland Cruise Line

Back in 2017 Tom Cruise starred in The Mummy, an ill-fated attempt to launch the Dark Universe which was intended to give Universal’s classic monsters the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe treatment. It was a fiasco in large part because Cruise’s character was so phenomenally ill-conceived. He was an archaeologist with no sense of “best practices” and so self-interested and so disgusted with himself, the movie ended with him going on a quest to find his own soul.

Holland’s take on Nathan Drake circles the same drain. Plus, there’s another nod to a Tom Cruise venture, Cocktail, as Holland struts his stuff while throwing bottles around and mixing fancy drinks. But give the kid a smidge of credit. As with his version of Peter Parker, Holland gives Nathan some youthful personality and energy.

The same can’t be said for his partner in plunder, Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg, The Italian Job). Bland. Generic to the core.

What’s desperately needed to give Uncharted some sort of kick is chemistry. There is none between Holland and Wahlberg. And, for that matter, there isn’t much served by the movie’s idea of bad guys. That extends out to Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro) as Santiago Moncada, a man so ruthless he has no qualms whatsoever with killing his own father.

Even so, there’s no tension in the air. Nor is there a sense of excitement. The story has some fairly creative ideas bouncing around, but they’re lost (not gone) amid shoddy stunt work and CGI imagery that doesn’t create enough realism to convey any sense of real danger.

Plundered Past

Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) with Nathan
Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) with Nathan

Surely there was a good movie to be had, but it’s lost. And gone.

The shame of it is there’s some good talent wasted on both sides of the camera. Director Ruben Fleischer helmed the hit Zombieland and the screenwriters collectively can boast of successes including Iron Man and episodes from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In cases like this, it’s appropriate to take a moment and appreciate the good Dr. Jones. He makes it look so easy.

The best of this variety of adventure movies juggle character, action, heart and history while performing a highwire act stretched between historical fact and fantasy. Most recently, Alicia Vikander’s turn as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider comes mighty close. It’s a movie with a nice character arc as it follows Lara’s transformation into an adventurer; it’s one that deserves a follow-up and a sequel is currently in production.

But all those key ingredients are virtually non-existent in Uncharted. Neither lost nor gone. Non-existent.

Uncharted’s cold and calculated as it careens toward its conclusion, then offering two MCU-style teases during the end credits. It’s clearly hoped by all involved there’ll be a whole series of adventures with an expanding roster of characters, but that’s a stretch.

As Nathan and Victor — and other characters from the games, including Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali, India Sweets and Spices) — travel from New York to colorful locations like Barcelona and the Philippines, a sensation begins to grow that what they’re looting isn’t Magellan’s treasure at all.

It’s Hollywood’s.

The movie begins with a scene that is an update on the cargo plane sequence in the James Bond flick The Living Daylights. This time, it’s a whole daisy chain of cargo pallets in a scene that should be much more hair-raising and fun than it really is. And that includes an oddly out of place apology from Nathan – particularly given his otherwise inconsiderate proclivities – as an armed opponent goes flying off to his certain doom. That apology? Sounds exactly like James McAvoy in Wanted. “I’m... so... soorrrry!”

And, as Nathan manages to escape yet another scrape, his salvation looks a lot like another James Bond escapade — Moonraker.

Nathan’s a thief, but at least he knows to steal from the best.