Uncharted Tom Holland Mark Wahlberg

Uncharted is a typically soulless, lacklustre late-winter blockbuster

“Is the whole movie just an ad for a second-rate pizza chain and a PlayStation game? Well, yes.”

In the opening shot of Uncharted, a passed-out Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) falls from the sky. A gift from his brother, a ring from their childhood, dangles on a chain above him. As he comes to, he grabs the ring and takes note of his surroundings. Surrounded by enormous cargo crates and villains with guns, he needs to shape up before he plummets to his untimely death.

Based on a popular video game, Uncharted is an action-adventure film that combines puzzles and parkour with an odd-couple narrative. A street-smart youth, Nathan Drake, is hired by shady, older adventurer Sully (Mark Wahlberg) to help track down buried treasure. From New York to the Philippines, their madcap adventures explode with double-crosses and misunderstandings, allowing maximum antics to ensue. 

In many ways, Uncharted epitomizes the late-winter blockbuster. It has a breakneck speed that feels like an ample distraction from the cold as well as the recycled January lineup of award contenders. It’s just fun enough to sweep you away but not quite good enough to be anything more. It’s a vehicle for movie stars to quip one-liners and hang from chandeliers. It satisfies a base urge, like impulsively buying a dusty dépanneur chocolate bar. While Uncharted may satisfy your sugar craving, it’s not particularly enriching and barely clears the “hits the spot” threshold.

Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland star in Uncharted

At its best, Uncharted takes advantage of the competing values of its two main characters. While both Nathan Drake and Sully are thieves, Drake has some comradeship while Sully only has eyes for the gold. The narrative works best when things go wrong after characters are forced to think on their toes and reassess their priorities. In a film that could easily be an adventure story that takes characters from point A to point B, the biggest tensions lie in the fault-lines of greed. It soon becomes clear that the “greatest treasure never found” has only remained hidden due to the selfishness of those who seek it.

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg work well as comrades and foils. Holland’s gee-whiz boyishness brushes up against Wahlberg’s smarmy unreliability to great effect. Neither gives particularly dashing performances, but they’re more than serviceable for what the material demands. The supporting cast fares less well in underwritten parts. It’s hard to fault Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali or ​​Tati Gabrielle for not bringing more to the table — they feel like glorified NPCs driven by singular wants and needs. The supporting cast is flat and uninteresting, though Tati Gabrielle gets some points for looking good in a fashion harness. 

On a very fundamental level, Uncharted lacks substance. It’s all surface-level, and there’s not much to hold onto. The most memorable moments are things like having a fight sequence unfold at a Papa John’s in Barcelona — not because the fight itself is special, but because the product placement is so blatant and anachronistic. While most blockbusters feature some brand sponsorship, they’re rarely so in-your-face. The sequence would be funny if it weren’t so sad. 

Is the whole movie just an ad for a second-rate pizza chain and a PlayStation game? Well, yes. That doesn’t mean it’s without value and entertainment, but it never really transcends its original purpose: to sell products. A lot of blockbuster cinema can easily be broken down as a way to drive people to buy action figures or head to an amusement park. Still, they also tend to offer a little more substance than Uncharted — a movie that doesn’t even seem to have any ambitions beyond being serviceable. It’s not bad so much as it’s instantly forgettable; it’s a movie without any real soul. ■

Uncharted opens in Montreal theatres on Feb. 17.

Uncharted, directed by Ruben Fleischer

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