Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a charismatic, small-time crook who's recruited by Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to help find a fortune in lost gold from a lost voyage hundreds of years ago before a billionaire (Antonio Banderas) gets his hands on it.
In a Japanese commercial for 'Uncharted 3', Harrison Ford picks up a controller and plays the game upon which 'Uncharted' is based. He chuckles at the character's death-defying stuntwork, and the potential audience is supposed to see the link between Nathan Drake and Dr. Henry Jones Jr. without having to spell it out quite so blatantly. Games like 'Uncharted' have been acclaimed by audiences and critics alike for being able to put players into a big, splashy blockbuster and let them ride it out themselves. Through a controller, you get to hang out the side of an aeroplane, bounce between conveniently placed cargo crates, and knock out some faceless goon before you're on to the next place. That kind of procedural storytelling works in a game because it's up to you to get to the next act, and you get the satisfaction. It's an active experience.
Now, take away the controller. Is it still fun? Sure, there's plenty of evidence that people enjoy watching others play video games and doing it skilfully, and yes, the story and the script in the medium is improving. Yet with an adaptation like 'Uncharted', you're reminded of how much the top-tier titles - the Triple-As, as they're known in gaming circles - either borrow or outright steal from Hollywood blockbusters. In fact, a game of the same vintage as 'Uncharted' - the original version of 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare' - even took a step further and had William Fichtner play a similar role to the one he played in 'Black Hawk Down'. Hans Zimmer also did the score for the game as he did for 'Black Hawk Down'.
Trying to reverse-engineer a movie out of a game that takes so liberally from something like 'Indiana Jones' is never going to work. For one, you're just going to compare it to that and realise how it's coming up short because it's been done, and done better. There's even an aeroplane-map sequence, for crying out loud. Tom Holland is doing his best with very thin material, flinging himself across the screen without the comfort blanket of his Spider-Man costume. Instead, he's got to rely on his charisma but winds up trying to channel early Tom Cruise, circa 'Cocktail' and 'The Color of Money', with middling results. Marky Mark, meanwhile, is playing the same role he's played about a dozen times before without breaking a sweat. Antonio Banderas is the only one who seems to be having fun by chewing the scenery at every chance he can get, and more power to him. Even Tati Gabrielle, who turned in memorable performances in Netflix's 'Sabrina', is reduced to the most tedious of henchwoman / villain roles here.
Looking at director Ruben Fleischer's output, it's clear that while he might have some success with the likes of 'Zombieland' or 'Venom', his work in relatively serious movies has been decidedly lacking. Anyone remember 'Gangster Squad', for example? 'Uncharted' might be trying to blend together caper comedy with generic blockbuster action, but the fact is that the script and the story are so damn derivative and worked out in such a plodding, procedural fashion that you may as well have a controller in your hand as you're watching it. You can almost imagine an on-screen prompt ordering you to tap Circle or Square to make Mark Wahlberg come up with a quippy remark or for Tom Holland to do a tumble over something.
'Uncharted' isn't remarkably bad, but it's just not particularly good either. It's the most damning thing of all for a blockbuster - mediocre, and kind of boring. For a career that's on an upward trajectory like Tom Holland, this is only a minor setback and one that he was probably talked into rather than wanting it from the start. Seeing as how 'Uncharted' passed through so many writers, directors, and actors, you can see how Columbia and Sony thought he could be the one to carry it.
Sadly, 'Uncharted' just isn't smart enough, original enough, or entertaining enough to be anything other than filler material in the doldrums of Oscar season.