“Uncharted” Review: Losing the Heart of What Makes Drake Great

A look at the 2022 film adaptation of Naughty Dog’s lucrative franchise.

Makayla Hoppe, Editor-in-Chief

Historically, video games have never made for very good feature films. From the “Mortal Kombat” movies to the different versions of “Tomb Raider”,  Hollywood has attempted time and time again to bring our favorite video game franchises to the big screen. Many important components seem to get lost in translation, and instead, receive convoluted storylines and confusing characters.

The most recent attempt comes from Sony’s “Uncharted” film starring Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a witty treasure-hunting thief, and Mark Wahlberg as Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Drake’s closest accomplice and surrogate father figure.

Official poster

The film had been in development hell for a decade, seeing a frequent turnover of directors and screenwriters. Sony sought out Wahlberg from the very beginning, but for the role of Nathan Drake instead of Sully. Nathan Drake’s average age throughout the game series is mid-thirties, and Wahlberg is now fifty years old. In the games, Sully is in his sixties, which puts Wahlberg in a predicament: too old to play the lead but too young to play the supporting character.

However, the film is an origin story, showing the characters a decade before the games take place (even though the film includes many beats and action scenes straight from the games.) The 20-something Nathan Drake meets Sully for the first time, but instead of establishing a surrogate father relationship like in the games, the Holland-Wahlberg chemistry comes off as brotherly. This change doesn’t really fit, seeing as how one of the main storylines of the film is Nathan Drake searching for his long-lost brother, a character that was established early on.

Both Holland and Wahlberg feel horribly miscast, with Holland just seeming to portray a slightly different version of Peter Parker (something he’s going to have to work on if he doesn’t want to be typecast,) and Wahlberg playing most of the roles he’s had since 1997. To Holland’s credit, he did put on muscle and perform many of his own stunts, something not needed in the Marvel films due to Spider-Man’s CGI.

Glaringly absent from the film is the character of Elena, a reporter and, eventually, Drake’s wife. Elena is a main supporting character throughout all 4 of the games. The female opposite to Nathan in the film is Chloe Frazer, introduced in the second game to create a small love-triangle storyline. It becomes clear that the writers did not know what to do with the character in the film, because she is abruptly absent from the third act, only to show up again in the last two minutes.

The dialogue is painfully bland and uninspired. Even though the characters use two ancient crosses as MacGuffins for most of the film, Sully constantly talks about “double-crossing” and no joke or pun is ever made about it (something that smartass Nathan Drake would have done in the game.) That’s not to say that cheesy puns make a good script, but there is nothing unique or charming coming from the characters. The script features long, drawn-out exposition dumps that cause your mind to wander, which makes the film’s pacing drag throughout the runtime. There is also some pretty shameful product placement that becomes an eyesore.

This is where video game movies, as a genre, begin to fail. The appeal of the games themselves is discovering the world in real-time as the character. A full campaign of a solid action-adventure game will be upwards of 10 hours, which leads to important character arcs, story developments and action sequences. A two-hour film cuts many of the traits and nuances that made the game so popular. A film and video game are two different mediums, and if the medium is the message then translating one to the other causes some dissonance. 

Thankfully for Naughty Dog, their other beloved property “The Last of Us” is being written as a miniseries with Neil Druckmann, writer of the original game and co-president of the studio, serving as a producer for the show. “Uncharted” is a successful fan-favorite franchise, but “The Last of Us” is considered one of the best video games ever made.

For the die-hard “Uncharted” fans, there will always be the small-budget fan film starring Nathan Fillion, the film actor they’ve wanted for years. Released in 2018 and only 15 minutes long, the cinematic short film captures a look into what a live-action Nathan Drake could have been and received very favorable reviews. Unfortunately for Sony and their $100 million budget, the 40% Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t seem to capture that same interest.