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‘Uncharted’ review: Sailing in familiar waters

Carljoe Javier
‘Uncharted’ review: Sailing in familiar waters

COMING SOON. Tom Holland stars in 'Uncharted'

Sony Pictures' YouTube

'If it means anything, after viewing the movie I went and reinstalled and started playing the games again'

There’s an exuberance to Uncharted’s best set pieces that make them memorable, even as so much of the film is, well, forgettable. It’s not that the other parts are bad per se. Rather they are so familiar that most of the puzzle-solving and tomb-raiding melt don’t really have much difference from other movies in the genre. 

Given that, there are two viewers that this movie might appeal to. First, if you’re a fan, you’ll likely enjoy the extension of the IP. The content is very different from the games (I am sure there are some fans who won’t be able to get over the height difference between the digital Nathan Drake and Tom Holland’s portrayal), but for the most part the movie gets the feel of the games right. The fun, the humor, and the silliness are all here. 

The other viewer who might enjoy this is looking for a big screen experience that aspires for adventures in the vein of Indiana Jones. It’s also got a “What if the Goonies grew up?” feel to it. If you’re up for a big-budget globe-trotting scavenger hunt which in the moments of viewing are fun and exciting, then this works really well. It’s got thrills and stunts. 

When we are introduced to the hero of Uncharted, Nathan Drake is falling out of a plane. It’s kind of crazy that this set piece, which might come toward the end of other movies, is the opener. Thing is, it is also something we have seen in other blockbuster flicks (similar sequences show up in Mission: Impossible and the Furious series). The movie relies on taking something we kind of already know, and then doing its own spin on it. Add the layer of the likable and sometimes bumbling hero (Holland gets that tone right) and you’ve sort of got a reliable if not entirely unique formula for entertainment. 

I won’t talk too much about the game series, especially as you don’t necessarily need to have played the game to enjoy the movie. But it’s worth mentioning that the game itself functions as an update/remix of other things in the genre. It was very clearly a heavy helping of Indiana + Tomb Raider, dashes of Prince of Persia, then some shooter action for good measure. While artistically it was groundbreaking, narrative or gameplay-wise, it was a really good update to something we already knew. 

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That’s how I feel this movie operates, too. The aforementioned Indiana Jones and Goonies, and knowing that it is inhabiting the same kind of world as movies like National Treasure, are all things I couldn’t get out of my head. And yet, once the whole thing was running and it was hopping from one location to the next I was happy to go along with it. 

The story is pretty simple, and just barely enough to hang the many action sequences on. Holland’s Drake is a brilliant rogue and hustler who gets the chance to team up with Mark Wahlberg’s Sully, a treasure hunter. As they try to acquire a treasure, they are competing against Antonio Banderas’s Moncada and his goons. Throw in Sophia Ali’s wild card character Chloe, a fellow treasure hunter who shares a past with Sully and some chemistry with Drake. With all those pieces in play, various keys and maps and other pieces can be swapped, stolen, lost, and recovered, moving the plot briskly along. 

Similar to many other treasure-hunting stories, you have to do quite a bit of suspending your disbelief. The complexity of some of the puzzles (or the sometimes all-too-obvious simplicity) are things to kind of just accept. I often find myself watching or playing games in this genre and thinking, the only way that a certain setting or trap like that could exist is if aliens made them. But hey, if you’re in there to watch some people try to find a lost treasure or whatever, you have to accept that a lot of this is going to be a fantasy. 

Once you accept that the movie is asking you to come along for the ride, then the ride is quite fun. Heists, chases, racing across rooftops, diving into depths, and all that are quite thrilling. Characters bickering, scheming, and plotting slow the movie down. Some side plots just aren’t interesting or feel like spinning wheels. But at points when I felt my interest wane, the movie would get back on track and throw me another action sequence. If it were a video game, it would be properly paced enough that I wouldn’t skip the cut-scenes. 

My final opinion of this movie is built on its being a video game adaptation. Such movies are still often notoriously bad. And while there might have been a few successes, on the whole that kind of film has more often than not managed to disappoint both gamers and new viewers. 

Uncharted is entertaining and fun. Sure I felt that there were some parts that dragged, some parts that were a little too familiar, that tried too hard to be funny. But if they made a sequel, I would watch it. If it means anything, after viewing the movie I went and reinstalled and started playing the games again. So as far as movies based on video games go, this is among the best, and as far as Hollywood big budget blockbusters go, it’s a fun watch and does kind of what you expect from that kind of movie. –

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