It’s well into the third act of “Uncharted,” during the airborne pirate-ship battle, that I began to wonder: Who on Earth are these people?
Of course, we know their names and what they’re doing. Mark Wahlberg is Victor “Sully” Sullivan; Tom Holland is his young protégé, Nathan Drake; and they’re on a globe-trotting adventure to find a treasure trove of gold stashed by Magellan’s crew, and perhaps Nathan’s long-lost brother. But really, who are they? What do they actually want (aside from gold)? How did Sully’s profession become pillaging the pillagers?
We know Nathan, a young pickpocket/flair bartender, has been recruited by Sully for his very specific set of skills, and his connection to his missing treasure hunter brother, Sam. Everyone else in this adventure seems to be there for nebulously greedy reasons that are never fully explained.
Sully and Nathan’s partner, Chloe (Sophia Ali), claims a childhood betrayal as her driving force. The glamorous assassin Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), hired to stalk and stop them, is seemingly in it for the money, but the one opportunity for her character to have a juicier storyline is quickly squandered. The only clearly outlined character is Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a Spanish aristocrat descended from conquistadors who wants to repatriate the gold that Magellan’s men stole from the Philippines oh so many centuries ago.
Familiarity with the lore of “Uncharted,” the video game, should not have to be a prerequisite to invest in the lore of “Uncharted,” the movie, though it’s likely that die-hard fans of the game might be a bit disappointed with this iteration.
The journey of “Uncharted” from PlayStation console to screen is about as epic as the adventures the central characters undertake. The film has been in development since 2008, and various directors and actors have come and gone through the process. Finally, the combination of director Ruben Fleischer and star Holland stuck, with a script by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.
The story feels inspired by early Hollywood serials, and Fleischer throws Nathan into extreme-sports-inspired scenarios with ticking clocks that are the same stuff that action filmmaking has been made of since Pauline was in peril. But while “Uncharted” should be a rip-roaring adventure, it neither rips nor roars. Instead, it’s a rather basic travelogue through various far-flung locations, filled with riddles, puzzles, symbols, keys and historical fun facts, like a “Da Vinci Code” with abs.
If “Uncharted” survives on one thing, it’s the charming banter between Holland and Wahlberg. While Holland is a bit youthful for the role, he’s in a fun zone as a naughtier, zippier version of his Queens-born city kid Peter Parker. He’s matched by Wahlberg, who is locked in his signature high-pitched/rapid-fire “say hi to ya mother for me” cadence. The pair are so entertaining to watch that it’s a letdown when Holland interacts with anyone else.
“Uncharted” is fine, and entertaining enough, but while some moments are inspired, others are completely inert. It’s oddly neutered and bloodless, the stakes negligible. It feels like a project with so much potential that never fully achieves liftoff, stumbling when it should soar.