After lengthy production delays thanks to the pandemic, Naughty Dog’s epically fun Uncharted video game series finally gets the big screen adaptation it has deserved all along! Having recently finished the four mainline entries in the series on my Playstation 5, the saga of Nathan Drake was fresh in my mind. Serving as a prequel to the games, this iteration of Uncharted takes heavy inspiration from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Casting Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg as the leads was a minor stroke of genius; both actors riff off one another with a playful camaraderie extremely reminiscent of Nate and Sully’s relationship in the games.
The opening frames plunge the audience straight into the action. Nathan Drake (Holland) is dangling by his foot in the air, clinging to cargo as it shakes violently in the air behind a massive-looking plane. It is a scene straight out of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and it should instantly please both game fans and action-movie fans alike. By immediately starting here, a gradual build of intensity is not needed to get invested. Holland’s signature charisma and unbridled charm are already present, as Drake makes it a point to apologize as a foe goes flying off into the sky. A 15-year-earlier flashback peppers in a beautiful backstory between Drake and his brother, Sam. Shipped away from St. Francis Orphanage unceremoniously, Sam promises to come back for Nate, and gifts him a ringed necklace whose importance has not yet been fully realized.
In present day New York, Drake works as a bartender at an upscale spot where he is easily able to loot the pockets of the privileged. Victor Sullivan (Wahlberg), who insists on being called “Sully,” shows up offering Drake a place as his accomplice. Initially reluctant, Sully’s proposal of five billion in pirate gold seems too good to be true. Drake learns that his brother Sam had been working with Sully, and apparently ghosted him just as they made a major breakthrough in their hunt for the treasure. This proves to be the deciding factor in Drake teaming up with Sully—the prospect of potentially being reunited with his long-lost brother, who has only communicated through countless postcards, is nearly intoxicating.
Drake and Sully’s mission to locate Ferdinand Magellan’s fortune will take them to multiple places across the globe, from New York to Barcelona, Spain to the Philippines. It also attracts the attention of ruthless family heir Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and fellow gold-hunters Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) and Braddock (Sophia Ali). As mentioned before, the gold star for this movie really belongs to the relationship formed between Drake and Sully. Teaming up two of my favorite working actors, I was hoping they could form a tangible bond. After Drake pops in gum before heading to a Spanish art gala, Sully starts calling him “Bubble Yum.” Numerous old-man jokes about Sully being technology-averse and needing glasses fit in perfectly with his game character. Holland and Wahlberg knock it outside of the park.
Many staples of Uncharted are lovingly touched upon, and the movie inserts clever Easter eggs left and right. Suspenseful action, the lighting of torches, dangerous traps, treasure maps, a Naughty Dog sticker, and a clever, crowd-pleasing cameo are just the tip of the iceberg. Drake and Sully also use a captain’s journal that aids them with clues on their journey, and I couldn’t help but picture myself opening Drake’s journal several times over on my PlayStation.
Being PlayStation and Naughty Dog’s first film collaboration, I held high expectations for this. Considering how cinematic the games already are, it would take a keen eye to capture their magic without feeling like a simple copy and paste. The gunplay is nowhere near as intense (and frequently overbearing), but Zombieland and Venom director Ruben Fleischer makes a clever play at capturing cinematic gold. The end result has obvious echoes of the already-present inspiration in the games: National Treasure meets Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. In other words, Uncharted lovingly pays tribute to the greats, while carving out what will hopefully be a fruitful new film franchise.
I especially loved the puzzle-solving aspects, and the Pirates of the Caribbean-style big set piece finale. There is definitely a sequel setup that leaves the viewer hanging, with multiple threads that can easily be continued. The impossible, achieved by only a select few, has been accomplished: Uncharted is an actual good video game adaptation. Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, and the entire team have done fans of this series proud with an entry that reflects the franchise at its best.
Uncharted searches for gold when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, February 18th.