By Bradley Lane
For as long as they have existed, video games have served as material for film adaptations. The 90s and 2000s saw a slew of adaptations where it was necessary to add exposition and character motivation to make a film version of a video game emotionally effective. The results of which alienated fans of the games and dashed critical reception of the films. The most recent video game adaptations include 2016’s Assassin’s Creed, 2018’s Tomb Raider and most recently 2021’s Mortal Kombat. These films that have all tried to capture the magic of their interactive origins and fallen short of the critical praise of their source material. These cinematic translations are indicative of a trend where the storytelling in video games has matured to a point where adapting a video game into a movie often loses more than it adds in terms of emotional depth and character growth. Thus is the case of 2022’s Uncharted, though well made, it is a flawed piece of work.
Uncharted is the story of treasure hunter and thief Nathan Drake, portrayed by the ever-charismatic Tom Holland. Nathan, pained by the disappearance of his brother Sam, seizes an opportunity to escape his life of petty theft, and possibly even find out what happened to his brother, when Sully (Mark Walburg) approaches him with a job to steal a 16th-century artifact linked to a legend of hidden treasure. This job takes him from a swanky New York auction house to Spanish catacombs, and the island caves of the Pacific in an over-the-top adventure to find treasure and keep it out of the nefarious hands of those who seek the treasure.
Originality is not the film’s strong suit; if you’ve seen any Indiana Jones movie, there is very little in Uncharted that will surprise you. That being said, the film borrows exciting action set pieces from the game series to entertaining effect and the banter between the thieves that populate the story is well written and performed. Despite some unsightly implantation of CGI effects, the film looks slick and fits snugly into the blockbuster look of modern action movies.
However, the film’s attempts at drama and character growth are laughable at best, which is a huge disappointment given the strength of the source material. But such is the case when any given game in the Uncharted series is given several hours of gameplay to familiarize the audience to the characters; and that robust world must be condensed into a mere two hours. This only serves as an example of the gap between mediums, as video games are growing into a singular style of storytelling that film is still learning how to adapt.
It is a cruel irony that the first Uncharted game was conceptualized as a playable Indiana Jones movie, and that game was then adapted into a film that lost the essence of both the game and the films that inspired it. Despite what it lacks in compelling storytelling, Uncharted delivers spectacle and action, and I imagine that will be enough for some audiences. My greatest hope coming out of Uncharted is that the film’s financial success and open-ended finale serve to help Hollywood take a more nuanced approach to adapting video games with strong narratives in the future. Uncharted is exclusively available in theaters. – 2.5/5 stars