"Never take off the mask."
"Never take off the mask."

Unmasked: “Uncharted”

I’ve always strived towards being objective in everything I write in this blog. In the end we, as fans of the seventh art, should be able to appreciate the things which we have the opportunity to enjoy but at the same time also not spare the criticisms for the things that are obviously not right with them. Today, however, for a change and to some extent for my own satisfaction since the topic that we’re going to take a dive into is among my favourites, you’ll read one pretty subjective and biased review and even though you’ll see a bit of notes here and there, I’ll be honest – “Uncharted” awakened the gamer in me and succeeded in its mission to bring me back into a very well-known and loved world, contrary to my initial expectations.

Typically in the style of my previous reviews and the game itself (and the movie as well, we’ll see later why), after this introduction I will yet again bring you back in the past to give you a bit of historical context. The “Uncharted” franchise has always been close to my heart due to a couple of reasons:

  • This is the first and maybe the only game/franchise whose story and gameplay I’ve watched entirely as a walkthrough simply because back then I didn’t have the physical opportunity to play it and it really impressed me quite a lot.
  • Obviously this is also the first franchise which I personally played after I got a PlayStation. The fourth part to me is still (and will remain, considering that we’re now in the next console generation) one of the console’s peaks and is a must play for every gamer, especially for the fans of the action-adventure genre.
  • As a fan of the linear single player adventure games I can safely define the franchise as my favourite in the genre and everything new or trending around it always gets my personal interest (and will continue to do so).

But let’s get back on track. From a purely historical point of view we can talk about something else – “Uncharted” is one of the videogame franchises which have been the most discussed when mentioning a live-screen adaptation. Considering that similar franchises such as “Tomb Raider” have already received several adaptations, it was a matter of time for Nathan Drake to get one of his own as well. The problem here lies in the fact that this time period has been too long. It’s been more than 10 years now since movie talks about “Uncharted” on the big screen have started and its production has gone through lots of different phases, lots of speculations on one aspect or another, several different directors and leading actors which have subsequently left the project due to different reasons, changes in the concept whether the movie should be a direct adaptation or something different but in the same context and so on. Whatever it is, such mini cataclysms during the development process of a project of such scale are never good news and we’re all well aware that movies based on games, no matter how good the source material is, rarely repeat the success and rarely get the love of the mass audience. All these details should tell you enough that the future on the big screen of Sir Francis Drake’s descendants wasn’t looking bright at all.

And to be fair, I’m still not sure that even in the current situation such awaits it. What I know, though, is that despite all the roadblocks and the piled up pessimism about what will actually turn out of the whole thing and despite all indications that this movie might never see the light of day, I was bent on giving it a shot and I managed to go and see it a bit after the offical premiere (even before the one in the USA, by the way, where the movie was expected to cause the most interest, as much as it existed) and I can safely say that I wasn’t left disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is definitely not something spectacular. Many people will probably even find it extremely mediocre. And still, I managed to find what I was looking for in Ruben Fleischer’s creation and that was an action-adventure which more or less knows what it wants to achieve and how it wants to achieve it, relying on the source material without making a parody out of it or trying to introduce new and original elements that would take it too far away from the game. And perhaps that’s where its charm lies – even though it’s treated as a prequel, “Uncharted” follows pretty closely the formula of its chronological predecessors (but actually successors) and borrows a lot of its main aspects from them. Unlike adaptations such as “Assassin’s Creed” where the idea of an original plot and characters relying only on concepts introduced with the franchise rather dragged the movie towards the bottom, here the obvious intertwining and filming of game cinematics, the introduction of familiar faces and locations in a way that can be later used to align and connect all the different storylines without unnecessary difficulties, as well as the cool references and cameos integrated in the main action rather raise the movie to the surface.

And since I mentioned the plot, let’s say a few more things about it too. The story is pretty straightforward with several minor but rather expected twists and is nothing unique on one hand but on the other hand follows quite strictly the principles set by the game. Apparently three heads in this case don’t think better, or let’s say more different than one (to be more specific – the three script writers) and story-wise the movie is heavily influenced by the fourth part of the franchise, written by the already legendary Neil Druckmann, but parts of the previous three can also be noticed here and there as the accent, of course, is put on Nathan Drake’s minutes in the air in his flight from the airplane which was a straight-up live action vizualisation of the third game’s most popular scenes. The plot twist around Nathan’s brother, the retrospective episodes of their childhood as well as the appearance of Chloe Frazer are also some of the main aspects of the last part of the quadrilogy and the obvious copy-paste here was actually not such a bad idea since with a little bit of added puzzle elements, airship pirate battles and a pinch of humour it managed not only to add a decent new story in the already rich franchise but also to remain true to the original and stick to its already established components. From more noticeable details like for example Nate’s classic equipment and weapons or the looking at postcards and photos from a first person view which is so typical for the games to the smaller details such as the game company’s logo appearance, Nolan North’s cameo (for those who are unaware – this is the man that gave the voice of Nate in the games) and, naturally, Sully’s moustache (although in my opinion we saw it too late), the movie succeeded in satisfying my personal expectations for an action-adventure of such calibre.

“Uncharted” comes out at a convenient time as the hype around the games has more or less died (a lot of time has passed already since Lost Legacy has been released after all) and there are also no big movie premieres around it which could reduce even more its otherwise thin chances to make a solid boxoffice. That’s completely understandable, considering that Ruben Fleischer is the seventh (7th!) officially announced director that has worked on the production. Not to mention how many actors have been speculated to take over Nate’s role. There were famous actors, there were lookalikes of the main character, there were voicing actors of the main character, only to take on an entirely different approach that represents Nathan in the never seen before point of his life as a younger explorer. And Tom Holland is definitely a light in the tunnel despite all the bias around him and especially when having in mind his still fresh adventures as the amazing Spider-Man. Well, his on-screen partner Wahlberg hasn’t really shined with any recent successes but on the other hand he has been among my favourites for quite some time now and still has enough fans to raise the expectations towards the movie even with all the hurdles that the production has stumbled upon with the crew and casting throughout all these years of filming.

And since I mentioned the casting, this is the place, where surprisingly or not, come most of the movie’s drawbacks. And no, I’m not even talking about Holland and Wahlberg. Yes, it’s true that I didn’t really feel the chemistry between them as much as I wanted to and it wasn’t as strong as it is in the games but let’s say that for a prequel they’re forgiven since their relationship is yet to be developed (and the ending was fine, completely in the spirit of the last cutscenes before the credits in the games). Sophia Ali’s performance was also solid and for a first major role (and an upcoming second one if the potential sequel ever sees the light of day) she manages to give life to a pretty convincing Chloe which is also charming and witty enough to be of interest both to Nate and to the audience. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for everybody else. Antonio Banderas is in a seemingly main, but in reality a secondary role and just gets too little screen time to unveil his class and develop his character in any way possible whereas Tati Gabrielle seemed pretty unconvincing to me and somewhat not feeling right in the role and will definitely not be missed in the eventual sequels. In two words, the “villain” part of the actors was pretty unsatisfactory and forgettable and it really lacked someone like Rafe at the end of the fourth installment of the game to heaten up the atmosphere and make you sincerely not like them.

From a purely visual perspective the movie looks good but I have to admit that in comparison some cinematics and scenes from the video games were several times more realistic and breathtaking. I don’t know, perhaps it’s next-gen technologies or the somewhat obsolete understanding that video games are not a good and realistic representation of the real world which influence this but in recent times the authentic design within the games themselves and the increasing popularity of the now almost inevitable photo mode have been definitely making much more impression than before and than the already familiar desert or jungle landscapes in the different shooting locations of the movie. Despite that, from a cinematographical point of view things looks fine – we can see the adaptation of the main gameplay mechanics, although there is space for further development of the parkour and acrobatic elements, as well as the high-speed chases and high adrenaline shootouts that are so typical for the game. The good news here is that for those who are not acquainted with the game everything new and foreign will be a welcome sight and even though from today’s perspective “Uncharted” cannot boast about the most original movie script, then at least the already mentioned borrows from Naughty Dog’s franchise (or said otherwise – “more of the same”) don’t actually play a bad role but the exact opposite – they give enough freshness and adventure spirit to the adaptation.

If I had to follow the logic behind the games’ titles, then I’d probably call the movie “Uncharted: Drake’s Inception”. Fleischer’s movie, to my pleasant suprise (I hope not only to me) lays the groundwork for a solid story about Nathan Drake and we can only wait (hopefully less this time) to see how things will develop from here on. Having in mind the bonus scenes (there are two, by the way, which is trendy in recent times, so stay until the end), there is a big chance that the eventual sequel will step on this foundation and build up on it with the already well-known for the gamers plot (i.e. the one of the first game) and make it more colourful with the new details which should have otherwise appeared at a later point. And since, like I said in the beginning, I’m a bit biased and optimistic, I can say that the franchise not only has the potential to develop further (I can talk a lot about the games and compare with them but I think that’s enough) but also turn into, if not the best (since de facto there isn’t such), then at least into one of the strongest videogame-based franchises and we all know that this is a cinema branch where it’s hard to break through with something of quality.

If I have to paraphrase my favourite in-game quote (and perhaps even my life motto), “Greatness comes from small beginnings” so I can definitely say that “Uncharted” is a good, even though a bit late start of a potential franchise that could bring back (more likely rebuild) people’s trust in movies based on videogames. And, after all, even if it doesn’t succeed in this endeavour I’m sure that it will at least make people take a look into the franchise out of interest and restore some of its forgotten former glory. I’m personally really rooting for the movie and I’m looking forward to the official sequel’s announcement and I’m also happy that I’ve more or less contributed to its boxoffice income. No matter whether you’re still playing games or not and what age you are, I’d suggest that you have a look at the franchise, this review and the movie itself and decide for yourselves if Nate and Sully deserve your attention. And who knows, maybe this will be an incentive enough for the people in Naughty Dog to add a new jewel in their already priceless gamer crown.

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