Uncharted Review: A Thief’s Beginning

This spoiler-free Uncharted movie review will cover the best and the very worst uses of the Uncharted video game license. After being stuck in development hell for so long, could this film adaptation of Naughty Dog’s games ever live up to its source material?

Uncharted Review A Thief's Beginning coverThe Uncharted movie was fighting a losing battle from the get-go—something the scrappy video game iteration of Nathan Drake knows all about. It’s this familiar, beloved character and his band of merry sidekicks and their plundering misadventures that have made the Uncharted game franchise so memorable to fans. The movie fails in almost every aspect of replicating their unique personalities. It does, however, make for a fun origin story to this team of thieves that just so happens to have the same names as developer Naughty Dog’s creations.

If you go into the Uncharted movie with this knowledge, and like a good, mindless, action/adventure flick, you’re going to have a great time. However, if you want to see Nate, Sully, Chloe, and significant character development with your cool action scenes—this is not the film for you. I’ll go into more details about its best and worst elements in this spoiler-free Uncharted movie review.

For more great movie and series reviews, make sure to check these out:

UNCHARTED - Final Trailer (HD)

Uncharted is out now in theatres in the UK, and will release on February 18 in the US.

Story – Uninspiring, but thrilling

Taking inspiration from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, the audience is given a glimpse into Nathan Drake’s (Tom Holland) childhood with his older brother, Sam. This doesn’t last very long and it’s hard to feel much of a connection between the pair. It’s not long before Nate and Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) get acquainted and start their globe-trotting adventure in pursuit of the lost, gold-laden ships of the Magellan Expedition. It’s a serviceable plot that tries to add a little mystery by not so subtly talking about Sam’s disappearance throughout the movie.

What the story lacks in creativity, it makes up for with memorable action set pieces. This is one aspect that the movie replicates well from its video game origins. Although, this mirroring acts more like an extended trailer for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. There is some originality from Venom and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer, but these moments are never as good as when it’s riffing from the games. Regardless of where the action comes from, it’s often thrilling, and is absolutely the best part of the film.

Swinging into action.

Swinging into action.

Characters & Performances – Good acting, bad characterization

Let’s get this out of the way: Tom Holland does not make a good Nathan Drake. Dream fan casting aside, there are so many other actors, both established and up-and-coming, that could have done a better job at bringing the charming thief to life. As both a Tom Holland and Nathan Drake fan, this is the most disappointing aspect of the movie. It’s hard to imagine new audiences feeling much toward the character either, as he’s pretty boring. There’s no charm or charisma. There also isn’t much chemistry between him and Chloe (Sophia Ali). Although, Nate and Sully’s banter does feel natural. The trio’s interactions are actually the best of Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway’s screenplay.

In all fairness to Holland, no character from the games is truly represented well in the movie. Surprisingly, Mark Wahlberg does the best job at bringing his to life, replicating the cadence of Richard McGonagle’s Sully eerily well. The Uncharted movie’s Sully is actually a great character. His humor comes off as a little forced at times, but at least Wahlberg gets some decent, crowd-pleasing material to work with.

Banter among thieves.

Banter among thieves.

Sophia Ali as young Chloe Frazer serves as more of a promise of things to come than showcasing why Chloe is so beloved by fans of the games. Her backstory is generic and delivered in a typical, Hollywood, dialogue-heavy way. Her untrusting nature is actually portrayed well by the rest of the script, negating the need for this out-of-place exchange. At least she’s not boring, and seeing more of Chloe is one of the reasons I’d be excited to see a sequel.

The real stand-out performance goes to Tati Gabrielle as original character Jo Braddock. She overshadows Antonio Banderas’ villain—and then some. There’s nothing particularly unique about her bloodthirsty character arc, but she gives one hell of a performance. There’s an intensity to every line of dialogue, and glowering look delivered. Fans of Gabrielle’s work on You and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina won’t be shocked to hear how good she is. So, it’s nice to see her acting talents have transferred well to the big screen.

Editing & Pacing – Fleischer’s Deception

As mentioned, there’s not a very interesting story to keep the audience entertained. This makes for a somewhat slow beginning to the movie. The pace really starts to quicken about a third of the way through, when action starts to get peppered in amongst the drama. Set pieces are very well positioned and orchestrated beyond this point. A few cool moments do run a little short, however, choosing to move the plot forward instead of lingering on the action scenes. This makes for a good pace, but left me a little disappointed by what could have been.

Love at first flight.

Love at first flight.

Cinematography & Sound – Lackluster visuals and score

Director Ruben Fleischer and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung are at their peak during the cargo plane scene. It’s Hollywood action at its finest, while paying tribute to the iconic scene from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. It’s ridiculous and over the top, which is why it’s sure to stick in the minds of all moviegoers. There are a few other long action sequences that teeter on the edge of greatness. However, they never reach the sky-high heights of this set piece. Although, focusing so much on the action doesn’t give the movie’s locations the attention they deserve. Barcelona is underutilized in almost every way. There are no lingering shots of bustling streets, or interiors of grand buildings. Nate and Chloe visit a very cool location that skips by disappointingly fast. It feels like to make a good action movie, the crew had to sacrifice atmosphere.

Perhaps this lack of atmosphere could have been improved if there was a more exciting score. Ramin Djawadi delivers a middling soundtrack that unfortunately only shines during the credits. If the famous Uncharted musical motif was running through other parts of the movie, I completely missed it due to the noisy action. It’s not memorable like Djawadi’s outstanding work on Westworld and Game of Thrones. Much like the rest of the movie, the soundtrack isn’t bad—it’s just not truly great.

Do you agree with this spoiler-free Uncharted movie review? Let me know in the comments below!

Director Ruben Fleischer has made a bad Uncharted movie, but a good action flick. If this wasn't an adaptation of the beloved video game franchise, its Hollywood stylings would almost certainly be better received by fans. As it stands, Tom Holland does a poor job at portraying Nathan Drake's charm and charisma, and the story is serviceable, but generic. Mark Wahlberg, however, gives a surprisingly good Sully performance, and Tati Gabrielle is the stand-out character as villain Jo Braddock. There's a lot to love about Fleischer's family-friendly Uncharted movie, but not much of it resembles Naughty Dog's Uncharted games.
  • Thrilling action.
  • Mark Wahlberg plays a surprisingly good Sully.
  • Tati Gabrielle's Jo Braddock is a wickedly fun villain.
  • Fan-pleasing references to the games.
  • It never really feels like a true adaptation of Uncharted.
  • Tom Holland does not make a good Nathan Drake.
  • Plot is almost irrelevent.
  • Beautful locations are underutilized.

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