Now on Netflix, Uncharted currently stands as a Top 10 theatrical box office performer of 2022, thanks in part to three things: One, star Tom Holland, AKA Spider-Man No. 3. Two, well-established source material (namely, a 40-plus-million-selling video game series about an intrepid young adventurer and treasure hunter). And three, escapism, probably? During more than a decade of development, the movie adaptation cycled through a half-dozen directors before landing on Zombieland and Venom guy Ruben Fleischer; Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle round out the cast, who spent all kinds of time jumping and shooting and whatever in front of green screens for a movie that turns the guy best known as Peter Parker into Peter Parkour (which, frankly, isn’t much of a leap, apologies for the pun). Now, to borrow and decontextualize a Wahlberg line from this movie, “Let’s see what this shitcan can do!”
UNCHARTED: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Nathan Drake (Holland) awakens in freefall, god knows how many thousand feet above the Earth’s surface. His foot is caught in the strap of a string of cargo dangling from an airplane, and to make matters inconvenient, some bad guys are also shooting at him. This is not exactly an ideal way to emerge from naptime, but maybe that goes without saying. How did he get in this predicament? Well, this being one of those movies that starts with something exciting under the assumption that it’s one twitch of a mosquito’s proboscis away from audience boredom, we have to flash back to find out, then work our way back to this harrowing scene. How far do we have to flash back? To Nathan’s childhood, of course, duh, when he and his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) lived in an orphanage and were such history nerds, they broke into a museum to steal the first map of the whole world ever drawn. This got them in trouble, prompting Sam to run away and never be seen again.
Subtitle: NEW YORK, PRESENT DAY, which is a lie, because we know the actual present day is the day in which Nathan is falling out of an airplane, so this particular moment actually occurs at least a few days before the present day. (Sloppy-ass movies are slowly killing me, I tell you.) Nathan bartends at a fancy spot called Kitty Got Wet (yeesh), where he flips and tosses bottles like Cruise in Cocktail and pickpockets valuables from well-moneyed marks like Oliver Twist. Then he goes home to a teensy, crummy apartment where he works out without wearing a shirt. One day, Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg) parks himself at Kitty Got Wet (yeesh) and reveals that he knows all about Nathan – his sheisty maneuvers, and his interest in the fabled lost gold of famed Spanish explorer Magellan. Sully knew Sam, working together to find the treasure. But Sam’s now lost or dead maybe; Nathan agrees to help Sully, hoping to find his beloved brother, and end up with a chunk of the legendary multi-billion-dollar booty, which may not exist because no one over the centuries has ever located it. But I’ve got a good feeling about this, because if Nathan and Sully weren’t smarter than everyone else who ever lived since the 1520s, there wouldn’t be a ridiculous movie about them – and this certainly doesn’t seem to be the type of story that ponders upon failure as a key contributor to personal psychological growth.
So off they go, Indiana Da Vinci Code Jonesing around Barcelona and the Philippines, following clues and finding artifacts, and picking up a third partner, Chloe Frazer (Ali), to help out with the wheres and whatfors. They’re not the only ones on the gold trail – nasty-nasty, old-old-money billionaire Santiago Moncada (Banderas), whose family privately bankrolled Magellan himself (I told you it was old money), wants the living shit out of it, and employs a cold-blooded, mean-as-hell damn killer, Braddock (Gabrielle), to do his dirty, dirty work. The “funny” thing here is, Sully and Chloe are such slippery backstabbing eels, each keeps telling Nathan not to trust the other, so he’s the earnest kid caught between two seasoned swindlers, relatively speaking anyway. Fists, bullets and banter fly, but ARE WE NOT ENTERTAINED?
Performance Worth Watching: Holland shows more go-get-’em gusto here than in any of his non-Spider-Man outings. He has oodles of charisma and an eager capability to carry glossy, action-driven entertainment with flimsy characters and barely a sneeze in the direction of subtext. Is that a backhanded compliment? Yes – and no! It’s a long way of saying I’d love to see him take a creative step forward and continue the Mission: Impossible franchise after Tom Cruise retires.
Memorable Dialogue: The script here ranges from:
Chloe: Sully doesn’t have any friends. I should know – I’m one of them.
Nathan: What does that look like to you?
Chloe: A keyhole.
Sex and Skin: None. A hotel-room scene in which Holland is shirtless and Ali’s terrycloth robe hangs off her shoulder is frustratingly fruitless. So, TBFOOBMALADWTOTOTF: Too Busy Fussing Over Old Maps And Legends And Devising Ways To Outsmart The Others To F—.
Our Take: Uncharted is the type of movie that makes you want to keep pointing out that it’s the type of movie that does this cliched thing and that other cliched thing. Therefore, it’s the type of movie in which our protagonists can just rampage through an ancient historic church with a pair of bolt cutters and not only never see a single security guard, but barely get a scrunched-brow glance from an old nun. The type of movie in which booby traps were OBVIOUSLY designed to murder sluggish, untoned 16th-century softbodies, not ultra-quick keto-parkour-pilates-HIIT-whatever 21st-century hardbodies like Holland and Ali’s. The type of movie that will set a key sequence inside a popular ketchup-on-cardboard pizza chain (which one? By far the worst one!) and be utterly shameless about it. The type of movie that believes “Some kind of Roman antechamber” is not only a complete sentence, but a good, solid piece of dialogue. The type of movie with several is-she-outta-bullets/she’s-never-outta-bullets action sequences. The type of movie with great scads and wads of cheap crummy CGI visual effects, because they’re surely expensive even if they’re not particularly convincing. The type of movie that takes stuff from 20 other movies and makes bland porridge out of it.
It’s also the type of movie that isn’t half-bad as far as unapologetic timewasters go, a plausibility-be-damned, every-detail-is-a-plot-device story about an elite cadre of morally compromised, but ultimately likable big-dreamer action figures following twisty-turny dotted lines on old-timey maps to big piles of gold, spitting one-liners at each other and engaging in bloodless violence along the way. (How bloodless? So bloodless, when a character gets their throat cut, there’s, like two drips. Gotta keep that PG-13!) For sure, Fleischer knows his way around a snappy action sequence, but this is all pretty generic, high-flying/low-stakes middle-of-the-road stuff, slickly made and perfectly watchable and all the more boring for it.
— Decider (@decider) April 30, 2022
Our Call: SKIP IT. Uncharted is kind of a parkour Pirates of the Caribbean, and if that sounds like it kind of sucks, you’d be right. Call me when there’s a capoeira Mission: Impossible.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.