One Liner Review:
It’s a throw away popcorn flick of an action movie, but considering the realm it’s playing in, the result is actually pretty decent.
For a video game adaptation movie, this one is pretty good. The fact of the matter is, most video games turned movies tend to be pretty lousy (the Mortal Kombat films being the only real exception, and even those are debatable.) This movie is pretty much up there with those, which is to say that it’s nothing great, but it is entertaining and fun. The story has an Indiana Jones meets National Treasure meets Tomb Raider thing going on, and that’s fine, because we are ripe for another series that follows the path set by those others. Really only Indiana Jones was a more-than-one-movie success, and hopefully Uncharted can be the next to follow. It’s a comedic action movie with some pretty decent fights. When it gets to the major stunts however, like cars falling out of planes, characters hanging out of planes, or giant ships being floated around by helicopters, we are talking about CGI all the way. And that’a a little annoying, because it makes this movie feel like everything else. But the first half is far better than the second, (where the computer effects take over,) and Tom Holland is a nice fit for the part. Sure, he’s way too young, but it doens’t really matter here, and casting Mark Wahlberg as his mentor helps set the age of these characters in a place where it makes enough sense. It might be very different than the videogames, (where Wahlberg’s character is a much older man,) but for this movie the ages work. The story is just okay, and the action could have been better, but it also could have been plenty worse (just look at what’s become of the Fast and Furious movies.) This one is definitely not the smartest movie, but as far a B movie silly adventurous fun goes, it gets the job done.
The thing about Uncharted is, it exists in a genre of movies that generally don’t tend to be all that good anymore. The big-budget, studio produced, non-superhero related action movie. These days, if it’s not a superhero movie in this genre, then it’s generally a Fast and the Furious movie. A few years ago, it may have been a Transformers or GI Joe movie, but even those franchises have fizzled out. And the Fast and the Furious movies, which were going strong for a while (movies five, six, and seven were all pretty good,) have reached the point where they are now not only awful, but also a joke. And so the fact that Uncharted is decent and entertaining and not-bad is actually a series of compliments, even if they might sound back-handed. The movie is fun, and it’s a video game adaptation, which for whatever reason tends to be one of the most difficult types of movies to get right.
Regarding videogame to movie adaptations, there really haven’t been many good ones. In fact, to this day, there is still no great one. Mortal Kombat, the 1995 movie, generally has the consensus as holding the candle for being the best, but even that movie has terrible effects, and a B movie storyline. It’s more campy and goofy than it is actually good. Fun, for sure, but hardly a great film. The remake of last year exceeds the original version in many ways, but it’s also way darker and not quite as much fun. And those are the movies that are actually kind of good. There are countless examples of videogame movies that go the opposite route and range from bad to terrible. These include the Super Mario Brothers Movie with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, or Michael Fasbender’s Assassins Creed, or the Duncan Jones directed Warcraft, as well as many others. Even Sonic the Hedgehog, which for some reason came out decades after the SEGA Genesis video games were popular, turned out to be just okay, and definitely more for kids than for adults.
So the fact that Uncharted is kind of fun, and feels better than most studio action movies these days (not counting superhero movies,) is a pretty big accomplishment. The movie is based on the popular Nathan Drake series about an explorer and treasure hunter. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the stories for these games are basically Indiana Jones movies reworked as a video game. Only the Indiana Jones movies aren’t what they used to be (the fourth film is pretty far removed in terms of quality from the original trilogy,) and neither are the movies that it spawned. After Indiana Jones was National Treasure, and after National Treasure was Tomb Raider. Both of those movies got sequels or remakes, which is to say that the first one did pretty well, (and in the case of National Treasure, the first was very good,) but the sequels dropped the ball and fell short of the mark. And that leads us to today, where most of these movies are pretty bad.
Luckily, the Uncharted movie is far better than any of those sequels. It might not be on National Treasure level (that was probably the last good Nicholas Cage movie to date,) but it still gets the job done. The movie casts both of it’s leads, Nathan Drake and Sully as much younger than they are in the video games. The game version has Drake as a middle aged man, let’s say in his thirties or forties, and has Sully as a much older mentor figure. The movies have gone way younger, casting Drake as Tom Holland (only about a month after he played a high schooler in the third Spider-Man movie,) and Sully as Mark Wahlberg. The irony is that Wahlberg, at the age he is right now, would probably be a perfect age match for the video game version of Nathan Drake. But everybody wants the next young thing, and so even Wahlberg is too old to be the star anymore, and is relegated to the older, mentor role here. One of the reasons for this casting is because of Holland’s popularity due to the Spider-Man movies. The other is that since Holland is so young in real life (he’s in his mid-twenties,) if they do make sequels to this film, he could potentially be starring in them for decades to come.
And that brings us to the storyline. The movie opens with a snapshot of a scene that will come later on in the film, with Holland hanging out of the back of a cargo plane, by his foot, which is attached to luggage that hangs by a rope. He wakes up from being unconscious during all of this, realizes where he is, and starts trying to hang on. But that’s when an attacker jumps at him and gets struck by falling luggage, sending the man down to his death. It’s an exciting opening scene. The only problem is that we’ve seen it all already in the trailer. And that’s okay, because most movies show clips from the opening scene in the trailer (if they can’t use the opening scene, then what can they use?) But the problem is, this is one of the best action scenes in the movie, and we will have to see it twice (once in the flash of an opening and then once again when it appears later on,) and we are already very familiar with it from the trailer. Let’s just say it would have been a lot cooler if we hadn’t already seen it in the trailer.
And speaking of the trailer giving away things, this cargo plane situation is nothing (except that we have to see the scene twice,) but the trailer also gives away the final action scene of the movie, with ships being suspended from helicopters. These old wooden ships are literally being suspended from ropes that hang from helicopters and being flown around, and the trailer gives it away. It’s a terrible trend in Hollywood where trailers show the final climactic action sequence. It goes all the way back to 1996 and Mission Impossible, with the trailer showing Tom Cruise jump from a helicopter onto a train, while in a tunnel, with the helicopter exploding behind him. But Sony, (the studio that made Uncharted) has been the biggest offender of anyone, with how they showed the finds moment of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 in that trailer. So it would have been nice if in Uncharted, we hadn’t already seen what the climax would look like, in the trailer. Save something for the paying customers.
Following that opening scene of a clip of something that will actually come later on, we flashback to a very young Nathan Drake as a child, when he and his older brother, Sam, are stealing things and getting in trouble. When Sam finally goes too far, and the school where the two boys live decide that this is his third and last strike, they kick him out. But Sam, not one to let the school get the better of him, decides to run away instead. He says his farewell and then slips out a back window, never to be seen by his brother again. Do you think Sam and ideas about what happened to him will factor into the plot later on? You better believe it.
In fact, a famous trope from these kinds of movies is sending the new kid (our protagonist,) out after the old kid. This goes all the way back to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with a man coming to recruit Indy, and Indy’s response being “the man you want is my father.” To which the retort by the recruiter is “we already have. Your father is the man who disappeared.” So the fact that Nathan Drake is recruited to do a mission by Sully in large part because Sully has worked with Sam and says that on their last mission Sam disappeared, hardly feels like anything new. But it is recycling the tropes in the right way, keeping to the beats of movies of this genre. And another thing that keeps to the beats, but also definitely comes off like something we’ve seen before, is all of the stealing that goes on in the first few scenes of the movie. Characters swipe things from each other left and right, and we always get the same reaction afterwards, which is that the character who was stolen from realizes the item is missing and knows instantly smirks at knowing exactly who took it, and that this other character got the bested him. It’s done again and again, just like it was in National Treasure with the constant swiping and replacing of the Declaration of Independence for a fake copy, that was bought in a store. Only in that movie it has a little more meaning, since it was the actual item everyone was after. Here it is used mostly as a gimmick.
Drake and Sully begin working together, and their first job is to steal a cross relic from an auction. That goes horribly wrong, and Drake ends up hanging from dangling light fixtures on the ceiling. It makes for a pretty cool action scene. One thing great about Tom Holland is that this guy is a natural gymnast, doing all his own flips and stunts. And he definitely sells the action here. Getting back to other action movies of today (like those Fast movies,) the action is always one-hundred percent CGI. It’s the reason why people like the Mission Impossible movies so much, because Tom Cruise is actually doing the stunts. Well, Holland isn’t actually hanging from a plane or anything, Tom Cruise is the loner with that one, but at least Holland is really doing the moves. And you can tell. It definitely makes a difference here, in these early action scenes.
Following the auction and the disaster it becomes, our characters head overseas where they use the cross as a key to unlock secret doors in a search for a treasure. This is where they end up in underground tunnels, and even in a Papa Johns Restaurant (that idea of product placement is pretty genius.) The tunnels part is very Indiana Jones. And while all of this is happening, there’s loads of betrayal going on with the characters who are in other locations. Antonio Banderas plays the villain here, and he’s involved in quite a few of these betrayals, including one major surprise that happens in the middle of the movie. Without giving it away, let’s just say what ends up happening with his character is so unexpected that it is pretty fantastic. The problem is that the second half becomes a paint by the numbers combination of betrayals and over-the-top action. Either the woman Drake and Sully are partnered up with is betraying them, or they’re betraying her, or we have a ridiculous action scene with no real stakes. Here’s an example… villains board one of these old ships with guns. The head villain tells them they better not put holes in the ship or she’ll have them killed. If that threat is meant to be taken seriously, why do they still keep their guns at all? And just moments later, they are of course firing their guns all over the ship. Now, the idea of them not being able to fire because they are trying to preserve the valuable relic is pretty cool and different, but the movie doesn’t go that route. It hints at it with the line from the villain, but then just throws that idea away to become like every other action movie. This is just one small taste of how the movie sacrifices opportunities to be smart for opportunities to be generic. At least this one never gets as ridiculous as those Fast movies. There are no cars parachuting out of planes or torpedos being kicked by someone who is driving a car. This movie is about as good as we can expect from an action movie these days. It’s definitely not a great, or super smart film, but it is just the right amount of fun.