I’ve played the video games ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’ and ‘Uncharted: The Lost Legacy’ so I am quite familiar with some of the characters and the general vibe of ‘Uncharted.’ A quick look online reveals that the film version directed by Ruben Fleischer and starring Tom Holland will serve as an origin story for the games (as mentioned in several articles from Collider and Movie Web and imdb), though heavily borrows quite a bit of elements from ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’ and, as some critics have stated, from many other adventure movies with similar themes like the Indiana Jones franchise.
From the trailer alone you can see that the film makes full use of Holland’s incredible physicality and gymnastic skills to a great degree for some pretty hair-raising stunts. It promises all the thrills and spills of an adventure movie. The laws of physics and biology really don’t exist in this film – and so what? It’s a video game movie. There’s no way a person can do some of the things you will see here, especially after suffering so much damage from punches and slamming into walls. But Holland has stated that it was the most demanding work he’s ever had to do for any movie and you can really see him doing his stunts. For that alone, the movie delivers on its promises of thrilling action sequences.
And while the film tries to bring the action from the game into the movie, what it fails to do is to really take its time to invest you in the characters. In a video game, whether you like the character or not, you are controlling the protagonist. Every time he does something amazing or cool, you feel connected to it because you’re holding the controller. The act of actually controlling the character endears the character to you. In a film, we are mere spectators so that investment has to come from a human element that is highlighted in the film.
For this film to truly work on all levels, it has to take time to develop some very important characters and their relationships with each other. The film presents us with Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a young man who grew up in an orphanage with his brother, who both have the propensity for history, geography, and exploration. After they were separated after getting caught trying to steal a 500-year old map that details Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world, Nathan ended up growing up alone as bartender who engages in petty thievery until he meets Sully (Mark Wahlberg) who invites him to join in a hunt for Magellan’s lost gold. When Nathan finds out that his brother, who he hasn’t heard from in a long time, was Sully’s partner, he joins in on the hunt for the hidden treasure.
The relationship between Nathan and Sam is vital to the film’s narrative. It is the prime motivating factor for Nathan to embark into this story but the film never takes time to truly show us what the relationship of the two was like. We just get the first scene when they were separated and are left to assume that they were close. This is a film. It’s more important to show and not to tell. The film lacks that connection we have to Nathan’s choice of joining the quest. Oftentimes, Sam is brought up to remind us why Nathan’s along for the ride but it doesn’t stick. It’s like the filmmakers just assumed we will want to see our hero risk his life in death-defying stunts that it isn’t important to emphasize on the why.
Similarly, Sully naturally is poised to become a surrogate brother to Nathan (though Sully is never trustworthy) but that relationship isn’t developed either. Instead, we get banter and funny one-liners that hinge entirely on their age gap.
So while we go on this exciting adventure, we are in it just for the ride. We don’t actually get to feel the emotional beats. And while a lot of the action sequences are amazing to watch, there are quite a number of moments that lack clarity. Sometimes the camera is too close or the cut is too quick that we don’t see the full movement of how Nathan gets out of trouble. It’s not often but when it happens, it gets annoying.
Because of the script’s lack of heart and emotion, the film is truly benefitting from Tom Holland’s charm and innocence. He is instantly likable and even if his character is a thief, you’re just naturally drawn to him. His physicality is amazing but he cannot carry the film through his charm and gymnastic skills alone. The script has to help.
Sophia Ali, who plays Chloe Frazer, gives Holland someone to bounce off with and it is their chemistry that grounds the piece but they’re not the centerpiece of this film. Antonio Banderas and Tati Gabrielle are so much fun to watch as the antagonists who will do anything to beat Sully and Nathan from getting the gold. Banderas is going for camp and looks like he’s having fun and Gabrielle just looks amazing in every scene.
The last bit that bothered me is the way the film discusses history and lost treasure. While the whole scenario is similar to Indiana Jones, at least Indiana Jones was an archeologist who wanted to put things in a museum (still imperialistic and West-centric but his goals were for the preservation of culture and heritage, at the least). Nathan and Sully are after the gold for their own self-interest. It doesn’t matter that the gold was taken from the Philippines with the intent of bringing our riches to Spain.
The Philippines is featured but they don’t really delve into our culture or history. It’s not important except where the gold is from – the film feels imperialistic all over again. For all of Nathan’s genius when it comes to history and the stories about explorers, he’s really just a treasure hunter. Without taking the time or the effort to contextualize the adventure, it seems that the film is saying it’s okay to take the riches of another country. It’s all fair game.
So while I enjoyed the film for its inventive action sequences and death-defying stunts, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth and left me wishing they gave Tom Holland more to do as an actor. Because ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’ left me in tears at the end of it. I didn’t have any of that in this film.
Uncharted opens this Wednesday, February 23 in cinemas nationwide. Find a cinema near you.
Thrilling Adventure Flick ‘Uncharted’ Opens in PH Cinemas This February 23
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