The case of a film inspiring a video game giving birth to another film, Uncharted is an adaptation of Naughty Dog’s excellent Indiana Jones-esque PlayStation series that arrives in theaters following a torturously long development process that began back in 2008. Fourteen years later, the fruits of that labor are meager, as Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s action-adventure is a by-the-books treasure-hunting lark that’s been done a million times before and is headlined by a miscast Tom Holland. Like its source material, it’s been modeled after far more illustrious predecessors, the problem being that without the platformer’s interactivity, what’s left is merely a collection of clichés in search of a novel spark.
Uncharted begins with a bang, picking up with Nathan Drake (Holland) as he dangles by the foot from one of many tethered-together cargo units that are fluttering in the wind behind a giant plane—a showstopper that directly recalls the memorable centerpiece of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Fortune. Before that death-defying predicament can come to a conclusion, however, Fleischer’s film leaps backwards in time to recount the efforts of young Nathan (Tiernan Jones) and his beloved older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) to steal a museum treasure map that pinpoints the route Magellan took when he discovered, and then hid, a priceless bounty of gold. Sam and Nathan share a dream of finding that loot, but it’s not to be—at least for a while, since once they’re caught by authorities, Sam is booted from the orphanage where they live and, rather than face legal justice, runs away for parts unknown.
On his way out a bedroom window, Sam gives Nathan a ring attached to a necklace that boasts their ancestor Sir Frances Drake’s motto, “Sic Parvis Magna” (translation: “Greatness From Small Beginnings”). Yet as with quite a few other narrative elements in Uncharted, it winds up being largely superfluous. Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway’s script obscures plot holes via speed, keeping things moving quickly in an attempt to prevent moviegoers from thinking about sketchy developments, such as Nathan’s third-act procurement—out of the clear blue sky—of a speedboat that’s vital to accomplishing his mission. It’s possible, of course, that such details were simply left on the cutting room floor. Regardless, the film has the feel of a rushed patchwork job, which also extends to the banter shared by a grown Nathan and his unlikely partner-in-crime, Sully (Mark Wahlberg), their repartee straining mightily to generate both humor and a larger sense of their combative camaraderie.
Nathan hooks up with Sully in New York City, where the former is working as a bartender, impressing hotties with moves straight out of Cocktail—a nod that, along with the Mission: Impossible-style daredevil opener, suggests some wannabe-Tom Cruise energy. Sully appears in Manhattan because he and Sam had been working together to acquire Magellan’s fortune, and now that Sam is dead—supposedly—he needs Nathan’s help to complete the quest. Luckily, despite having no apparent skills aside from twirling liquor bottles and pilfering jewelry from unsuspecting marks, Nathan is more than up to the task. Though he’s skeptical of Sully—a shady wisecracker whom Wahlberg imbues with shrugging cockiness—he accepts this daring assignment because he believes it’ll reunite him with Sam, who for the past decade-and-a-half has been sending him postcards from various spots around the world.
Thus begins an odyssey that pits Nathan and Sully against Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a member of the very family that Magellan betrayed centuries earlier, and a ruthless businessman who hungrily covets the gold. Central to locating that plunder are two crosses that function as keys, one of which is at an auction that Nathan and Sully crash, and the other is in the possession of Chloe (Sophia Ali), a former Sully ally who cautions Nathan against trusting his new comrade. Uncharted strives to keep Sully’s good/evil nature in question until its climax, yet Wahlberg doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, his turn too good-humored to sell the idea that Sully might actually be a nefarious villain. Worse, his performance feels tossed-off, which is also true of Holland’s leading-man routine. Coming across like a superhuman boy in a grown-up game—replete with multiple instances in which he evades trouble by Spidey-spring-boarding off a wall—he’s a bad fit for Nathan, generically stout when he should be rugged and roguish.
All the while, Fleischer and company indulge in every genre trope they can imagine, from secret doorways, hidden compartments and cobwebby passageways to mysterious puzzles, land-sea-air showdowns and a handful of double-crosses by would-be allies. Somewhere lurking within Uncharted is a flicker of romance, but unlike Holland’s Spider-Man extravaganzas, Fleischer’s film can’t be bothered to humanize its characters with anything approaching engaging emotions or relations; the sole thing that matters is racing from one subterranean catacomb and buried cave to the next, the action punctuated by a few dull quips and some brooding over MIA relatives. Overt references to Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean only exacerbate the photocopied quality of the proceedings, making one pine for those superior forerunners rather than this pale imitation.
Compounding matters further is the fact that, in Banderas, Uncharted has a regal star with first-hand experience with swashbuckling adventure (i.e. The Mask of Zorro). Rather than taking advantage of the accomplished actor’s familiarity with such shenanigans, however, Fleischer relegates Banderas to a suavely sneering archetype whose prime purpose is to fume at his father’s intended philanthropy and order around a bunch of henchmen—led by lethal mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle)—to kill Nathan and Sully and retrieve his rightful property. Even if it’s nice to see Banderas cashing in on his past glory in a big-budget studio outing, it’s depressing that the vehicle in question is so raggedy, devoid of any globetrotting glamour or breakneck suspense.
The faster it plummets down its path, the more Uncharted proves schematic in every respect, a flat programmer lacking a fresh twist. And without a controller at the ready to let one take command of such standard swinging-punching-shooting-swimming mayhem, the result is a last-gen title rendered in two dimensions.