February 15, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Boston, Spain and the Philippines, the action film “Uncharted” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A 25-year-old American man who’s had a longtime obsession with finding Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s legendary gold fortune teams up with two cynical art thieves—a middle-aged man and a woman in her 20s— to find this treasure.
Culture Audience: “Uncharted” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, because their on-screen appeal is one of the few highlights of this messy and idiotic action flick.
Even by standards of suspending disbelief for far-fetched action movies, “Uncharted” is still a disjointed and disappointing mess that thinks it’s funnier and better than it really is. Not even the on-screen charisma of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg can save this movie from being relentlessly moronic, with sloppily staged stunts, characters with cardboard personalities, and a storyline that often drags. Unfortunately, “Uncharted” is just another in a long list of movies based on video games that fail to improve on the video game in a cinematic way.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Uncharted” starts off with an over-the-top stunt scene that’s an indication of the idiocy to come for the rest of the movie: Nathan “Nate” Drake (played by Holland), a 25-year-old adventurer, is hanging off of a string of cargo boxes held together by rope and dangling out of an airplane that’s high in the sky. Considering that Nate is not wearing a helmet for protection, and he doesn’t appear to be affected by the deadly wind velocity, you just know that “Uncharted” is going to be the type of movie where viewers will be rolling their eyes and asking themselves, “Are we supposed to believe that people could survive these stunts in real life?”
Nate (who is not a superhero with superhuman abilities) is able make leaps and bounds in the air, like he’s Spider-Man, a character played by Holland in other movies. Maybe the filmmakers of “Uncharted” think that just because Holland is Spider-Man in other movies, audiences are supposed to believe any human character that Holland plays in another movie can magically have Spider-Man-like powers too. It just makes this movie (and its visual effects) look even more absurd.
As Nathan bounces around and leaps unrealistically from box to box in the air, a red Mercedes 300 Gullwing suddenly starts barreling out of the airplane directly toward Nate. Someone then grabs Nate’s hand, but the movie then does a dissolve edit to show a flashback to 15 years earlier in Boston, when Nate’s older brother Sam grabs Nate’s hand to prevent him from falling from a building. In the last third of the movie “Uncharted” circles back to the airplane scene by showing what caused Nate to fall out of that plane.
In this flashback, 10-year-old Nate (played by Tiernan Jones) and Sam (played by Rudy Pankow), who’s about five or six years older than Nate, are breaking into a museum at night to steal what is purported to be the very first map of the world. The screenplay for “Uncharted” (written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) is so shambolic, it never really explains why these two brothers want to steal this priceless art. Is it a prank? Is it to sell the map on the black market? Is it because they think they can keep the map like a trophy and are too stupid to know better?
Whatever their reasons are for this inept break-in, Nate and Sam are quickly apprehended by security guards. Nate and Sam are orphans whose parents have gone missing and are presumed dead. They are living in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. Because Sam has been in trouble before, and now has “three strikes against him,” he’s kicked out of the orphanage and is expected to be held in a juvenile detention center. For whatever reason that’s never explained in the movie, Nate escapes any punishment.
Sam runs away from the orphanage the night before he’s supposed to be taken into custody. Before he leaves, Sam gives Nate his most cherished possession: a brass ring on a chain, as proof that he has an incentive to see Nate again. Sam tells Nate: “I’ll come back for you, Nate. I promise.” Nate hasn’t seen Sam in person since that night.
Nate and Sam are history buffs who are obsessed with the legend of a gold fortune hidden in the 1500s by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. As children, they planned for years to go looking for this treasure when they got old enough to do so. But this separation has put a big halt to those plans.
“Uncharted” then fast-forwards to the present day. Nate is now a bartender at a trendy lounge in New York City. He’s still a history buff who likes to spout trivia, such as who invented certain things and when. This type of knowledge doesn’t really impress a pretty blonde customer named Zoe (played by Alana Bolden), whom Nate flirts with one night when he’s working. She has this response: “You’re kind of weird, but you’re kind of cute too.”
The same night, after the lounge has closed, a customer sitting at a table refuses to leave. He introduces himself as Victor “Sully” Sullivan (played by Wahlberg), and he tells Nate that he wants to hire Nate for an adventurous job. Nate is suspicious, but he takes Victor’s business card, which lists Victor’s address, phone number and business title as “Private Acquisitions.”
Out of curiosity, Nate shows up unannounced to the address on the card. Victor is there, and that’s how Nate finds out that Victor collects valuable and historical artifacts, most of which are stolen. And that’s not all: Victor knows Sam, whom he says he hasn’t seen or heard from in about two years. “He ghosted me,” Victor says about Sam.
Victor is also interested in finding Magellan’s gold treasure, which is valued at about $5 billion. Victor has sought out Nate because Victor figures that Sam might have left some clues for Nate to find this treasure. Victor suggests to Nate that if they both team up to find the gold together, there’s a chance they’ll also find Sam. Does that make any sense? Of course not, but Nate goes along with it anyway, mainly because Victor has the money and resources to finance this trip.
But not so fast, Nate. Victor is skeptical that Nate has what it takes for some of the violence that’s sure to come with this job. Victor sees Nate as just a nerdy young guy who might be too sheltered and inexperienced to be an effective partner for Victor. And so, Victor wants Nate to pass a test.
There’s an upcoming auction of rare Spanish art from the Renaissance era. Victor’s plan is to steal a jewel-encrusted crucifix at this auction. And he wants Nate to be his accomplice. And this auction leads Victor and Nate to encounter the two chief villains in the story.
At the auction are two people who will stop at nothing to get this crucifix too. Santiago Moncada (played by Antonio Banderas) is a wealthy Spanish collector who’s the heir to a family fortune. But not for long, because Santiago’s father Armando Moncada (played by Manuel de Blas) has recently announced that he’s giving away the family fortune to charity. Santiago, who’s the head of the Moncada Foundation, is infuriated by this decision, but Armando remains unmoved by Santiago’s pleas to change his mind. “I should have cut you off years ago,” Armando tells Santiago with disgust.
The other person who’s at the auction to get the crucifix is a mysterious and shady mercenary named Jo Braddock (played by Tati Gabrielle), who wants to be called by her last name. Braddock used to be romantically involved with Victor, but he broke up with her. She’s very bitter about it, so there’s an extra reason why she wants to beat Victor at his own game. It’s briefly mentioned that when Braddock and Victor were romantically involved with each other, she was his partner in crime too.
The auction devolves into one of many of the movie’s ridiculous fight scenes, where people with weapons spend too much time trading insults when they could easily defeat their opponent by using the weapons. And even though Braddock has combat skills, she unrealistically defeats several armed people who are much taller and stronger than she is when they gang up on her in a group. In reality, anyone would be easily defeated when being the only person to fight a group of at least five or six armed and dangerous people.
Victor and Nate soon find out there’s someone else who wants the crucifix too. She’s a skilled thief named Chloe Frazer (played by Sophia Ali), who’s also looking for Magellan’s treasure. Victor already knows Chloe, since they’ve been rivals in previous art thefts. Predictably, Nate and Chloe have an instant dislike of each other, which turns into mutual attraction, which they try to fight/deny/suppress in a cliché “will they or won’t they get together” subplot. Nate and Chloe have a hard time trusting each other, since one of them could betray the other at any moment.
Victor, Nate and Chloe team up for a flimsy reason explained in the movie. Their shenanigans take them to Spain and the Philippines, two landmark destinations for Magellan’s voyage around the world. The villains are never far behind, of course. Santiago wants Magellan’s treasure too, because he claims it was stolen from the Moncada family. The bombastic and moronic fight scenes that would kill people in real life will have viewers wondering by the middle of the movie: “How are these characters still alive?”
Victor and Nate’s reluctant partnership just rehashes the over-used movie stereotype of “the grouchy older guy who’s annoyed with the eager younger guy, but they have to find a way to work together.” On the way to the auction that’s shown in the beginning of the movie, Victor ridicules Nate for chewing bubblegum at this black-tie, formal event. The bubblegum comes in handy though, when Nate uses it to prop open a door to a room that can only be accessed through an electronic system.
Victor keeps calling Nate a “kid” in a condescending manner, which gets very tiresome, very quickly. There’s a scene shown in one of the trailers for “Uncharted” where Victor has a newly grown moustache. Nate asks Victor, while pointing and grinning, “What is that thing on your face?” Victor replies, “Puberty’s right around the corner, kid. You can grow your own.” It’s more than a little ridiculous that Victor treats a 25-year-old Nate as if Nate is a pre-pubescent child, but that’s what you’re going to see while Victor and Nate exchange unfunny jokes that fall flat.
The movie also tries to have “cutesy” banter between Victor and Nate. An example is when Nate tells Victor during an action scene: “You can get shot in the head, or you can come down here for a cuddle.” Fortunately, the stale and witless dialogue between Victor and Nate isn’t in the majority of “Uncharted,” because there’s a long stretch of the movie where Nate and Chloe work together without Victor being around at all.
In addition to having cringeworthy dialogue, “Uncharted” has very phony-looking production design. Hidden tunnels and hidden caves that are supposed to show signs of rot and decay instead look like very polished and overly staged movie sets. This lack of authenticity is very distracting and just makes “Uncharted” look too glossy instead of being the gritty action flick that it should have been.
“Uncharted” takes a steep nosedive into stupidity with too many action scenes that would cause death or serious injuries in real life, but the characters barely show any signs of being affected. One of the worst is a scene where Chloe and Nate plunge deep into the ocean as a result of falling from high above in the air. When they emerge after being thrashed around by deadly waves, they have no injuries, their clothes are still fully intact, and Chloe still has full makeup on.
As much as Holland tries to inject some fun into his Nate character, Holland is just doing an older version of the teenage Peter Parker character that he plays in the “Spider-Man” movies. Wahlberg’s portrayal of Victor is just recycling the same sarcastic grump character that Wahlberg has played in dozens of other movies. Banderas hams it up as a generic villain, which is essentially a shallower version of the wealthy villain he played in the obnoxiously bad 2021 action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”
Ali’s portrayal of Chloe is adequate, but Ali is stymied by the filmmakers not letting Chloe be a fully developed person but just a character to do stunts and trade sardonic quips with Nate and Victor. Chloe tells a little bit of a backstory about herself to explain why she has a hard time trusting people, but this background information is literally a brief mention that seems like a half-hearted attempt to try give Chloe more depth. As for Gabrielle’s Braddock character, she has no depth at all and has some of the worst lines in this terrible movie.
“Uncharted” might satisfy people who have very low standards on what makes a good action film. Not all action films have to be completely realistic, but they should at least have coherent storytelling, an exciting pace and compelling characters. “Uncharted” has none of those qualities.
The characters are boring villains and superficial heroes. This horribly edited movie also tends to drag and get repetitive. An epilogue and mid-credits scene make it obvious that the “Uncharted” filmmakers want to make a sequel. “Uncharted” is such a horrendous dud, any plans for an “Uncharted” movie series should be left permanently off of the movie industry map, but good taste never gets in the way of filmmakers who want to make millions from churning out garbage movies.
Columbia Pictures will release “Uncharted” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.