Like text that’s been translated into another language and then re-translated back by someone else, Uncharted bears a clunky resemblance to any number of classic action-adventure movies. Technically, the film is a loose adaptation of Naughty Dog’s popular PlayStation video game series featuring treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his quest to solve various historical mysteries. Because the games themselves are heavily influenced by Hollywood, however, turning them into an actual, non-interactive movie inevitably creates an off-brand approximation of familiar multiplex fare. It’s a personality-free jumble of Indiana Jones, James Bond, National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, and the more obnoxious Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels, serving up less inspired variations on fights, stunts, and clues you’ve seen before… minus all the distinct fun of navigating them yourself.
What’s more, Uncharted isn’t even especially good fan service. Rather than adapt any of the actual games, its three credited screenwriters chose to invent a new origin story—one that omits the franchise’s primary female character, Elena Fisher. Drake, originally a sardonic figure clearly modeled after vintage Harrison Ford, is embodied onscreen by Tom Holland, who sheds his adolescent Peter Parker dorkiness but doesn’t replace it with anything especially forceful or memorable.
Following a quick in medias res opening (missing only the record scratch plus freeze-frame plus “Yep, that’s me”) and teen prologue (setting up Drake’s beloved, otherwise unseen older brother), we first encounter young Nathan working as a New York City bartender, flirting with customers as a prelude to picking their pockets. Almost immediately, he’s recruited by a former associate of his brother, Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg, looking and sounding very little like the games’ gruff, mustachioed Sully), who wants Drake’s help in recovering—stealing, really—a centuries-old ornate cross that Sully claims is one of two secret keys that may unlock Ferdinand Magellan’s lost cache of gold. Sure, says Drake, because, hey, why not?
That degree of functional cutscene efficiency predominates throughout. Rarely do we get more from a non-action scene than the absolute minimum required to move the plot forward. Non-expository dialogue frequently has the general shape of badinage but lacks any actual wit, or even humor. (“Everything out of this one’s mouth is an exaggeration, a half-truth or an outright lie,” someone tells Drake of Sully. The latter’s deathless rejoinder: “You know what? That is not true!”) Occasionally, something legitimately funny sneaks in—there’s a terrific payoff to Drake’s reason for including a cat in the list of items he needs Sully to procure for him at one point—but Uncharted’s default mode is disappointingly generic. That’s especially true of its ostensible bad guy, rival treasure hunter Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), whose ruthlessness might as well be a cruise-control setting. Only marginally more interesting are Moncado’s primary muscle, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle, appropriately fierce in a traditionally male role), and game favorite Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), whose motives and loyalties remain typically ambiguous.
What does more or less satisfy, if only because the movies are somewhat starved for them at the moment, are Uncharted’s relatively low-key Indiana Jones homages. The lifts are fairly shameless—there are set pieces unmistakably inspired by specific parts of Raiders and Last Crusade—but it’s hard to completely screw up that combination of archaeological puzzle-solving and ancient-threat management. (Dan Brown adaptations, which skimp on the latter, have done a poor job of filling the void.)
Alas, everything skews gargantuan these days, and director Ruben Fleischer (who’s previously helmed the Zombieland films and the first Venom) also orchestrates some physics-defying green-screen outrageousness, riffing on vertiginous action scenes from the games. Clambering up a series of crates dangling from a plane’s cargo hold is a blast in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception; watching Tom Holland do the same on the big screen, it’s hard not to look around for Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. By the time Drake is engaged in pirate-style skirmishes on the deck of a sailing ship being airlifted by a helicopter, Uncharted has fashioned an exhaustively detailed map of the average viewer’s Blu-ray collection and/or Netflix queue. And if you’re somehow hungry for a sequel, never fear: Uncharted 2 (ft. Pilou Asbæk) actually kicks off during the closing credits. This is how we live now, apparently.