Uncharted Review: Uninspired Action-Adventure Movies Belong In A Museum

There is a frightening trend in action tentpoles nowadays: when the frame is not being filled with CGI explosions and various stuntmen doing acrobatic flips off camera, it's being filled with quips. Worse yet, they're not even funny quips, but they roll off the tongues of our devastatingly handsome leading men so quickly that you're halfway to chuckling before you register that there wasn't even a joke. Just the semblance of sarcasm and the rhythm of a jab.

I won't point fingers at where this trend started, or say who does it best or who even does it well, but I will say that "Uncharted," the Tom Holland-starring action-adventure flick based on the popular video game series, is the latest film to do it badly.

Following the Map Laid Before Them

Directed by Ruben Fleischer of "Zombieland" fame and penned by Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, "Uncharted" shambles along like a reanimated husk of better action-adventure movies before it, filled not with a soul but with jokes and funnies to make up for the fact that we've seen all this before. Like the "Tomb Raider" movies before it, and like every treasure-hunting action flick this side of "Indiana Jones," "Uncharted" is pretty par-for-the-course for an action-adventure film. There's a spunky protagonist who's unusually adept at puzzles and parkour, there's a long-buried treasure around which centuries of myths have sprung, and there's a globe-trotting quest upon which the protagonist and their grizzled/hot band of fellow adventurers must embark, encountering all kinds of mustache-twirling villains and their henchmen along the way. And while there isn't anything wrong with retreading this genre, "Uncharted" doesn't offer anything new. If anything, its similarities to other movies only call greater attention to its shortcomings.

Far from the great heights of the classic "Indiana Jones" movies, "Uncharted" is closer to "National Treasure" without the weirdo energy of Nicolas Cage, mixed with "The Goonies" without the childlike irreverence of Amblin. It's glossy, witty, and franchise-ready. Which would be fine if the jokes were good!

And those quips are part of the fabric of the film from the beginning, when the movie opens in medias res, as Holland's Nathan Drake wakes up in midair, his foot tangled in the ropes holding a cargo container that is falling out the back of a plane. A henchman climbs toward him and they tussle, Nathan finally kicking the man in the chest and sending him flying, responding with a panicked, "Oh my god I'm so sorry that was purely reactive!" Holland is used to these kinds of guileless quips — he's played Peter Parker for 6 years, after all. But the script struggles to match with Holland's level, giving us unfunny banter about Nathan Drake looking too young to be tending bar (which he is, he's a child), and about how Mark Wahlberg's seasoned fortune hunter Victor "Sully" Sullivan has too many apps open on his phone.

As someone unfamiliar with the games upon which "Uncharted" is based, I'm told that the games are already pretty funny, but they have to be better than the hollow jokes we get with the "Uncharted" movie. If you're going to make your movie 90% quips, at least have them be good. There's only so far that Holland's aw-shucks geniality can carry a movie.

Beginning at the End

Now that we've got the biggest sin of "Uncharted" out of the way, let's turn to the lesser of its sins: the origin story. Like an alarming amount of recent video game movies — "Tomb Raider," "Mortal Kombat," etc. — "Uncharted" has decided to go the prequel route with its protagonist, aging down Nathan Drake to a twentysomething Holland, who still seems to be too young to be playing an orphaned bartender-turned-treasure hunter. Which makes it even more ridiculous when the film flashes back 15 years to show an even younger Nathan Drake (somehow not 5 years old?) as he and his older brother dream of finding the long-lost treasure of the Magellan expedition. What is this secret treasure? Well, apparently, the Magellan expedition wasn't actually made with the goal of circumnavigating the globe — it was intended to find gold. And gold they found, burying it deep under the streets of Barcelona.

Nathan Drake is recruited on a quest to find this treasure by Sully (a phoning-it-in Wahlberg), who dedicated years of his life to finding the Magellan treasure and was briefly joined by Nathan's brother Sam before he disappeared. Hoping to reunite with his brother and find this mythical treasure, Nathan warily joins forces with Sully and is dragged into a whole new world of backstabbing, billionaire conspiracies, and a surprising amount of falling out of airplanes. He also gets to tangle with a (literally) cutthroat mercenary named Jo (a practically purring Tati Gabrielle, the movie highlight) and a ruthless billionaire treasure hunter (Antonio Banderas, wasted).

Throughout all this, it's hard to get a handle on why we should root for Nathan Drake, apart from the fact that he looks like Tom Holland. Before he takes up the treasure-hunting mantle, he's little more than a pickpocket with some fancy bartending skills, and throughout his journey with Sully — where he gets betrayed by Sully, then Sully's acquaintance Chloe (Sophia Ali, doing her best in a fairly thankless role), then Sully again — he takes it all with a stride that is almost superhuman. But, and Holland should know, we don't care as much for the mask as we do the person who wears it. And the movie cares so much about the mask, about the costume and persona of Nathan Drake, that it makes a big to-do of him finally putting on the shirt and the gun holster, and forgets to give us normies a reason to be as invested as all the gamers who love "Uncharted" so much.

"Uncharted" has fun moments — there are spectacular set pieces involving ancient ships being towed through the sky, and the aforementioned cargo-hold fight — but its overreliance on unfunny quips and uninspired retreads of the action-adventure genre makes it another disappointing non-MCU outing for Holland, and another spiritless adaptation of a beloved video game. Unlike its title, "Uncharted" finds no new territory for the treasure-hunting flick. In the words of our greatest cinematic treasure hunter, it belongs in a museum.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10