What to Watch Verdict
'Uncharted' is a rip-roaring modern treasure hunt that plays by video game rules and has a blast doing so.
🗺️ Tom Holland sells his Nathan Drake.
🗺️ It's got major action beats.
🗺️ Goes "big" and "dumb" like a video game movie should.
🗺️ Massive fun.
🗺️ It's a templated adventure script.
🗺️ Like I said, "big" and "dumb."
🗺️ Audiences must be along for the whole crazy ride.
Ruben Fleischer's Uncharted is the kind of video game movie that playfully enjoys being a video game movie and revels in how silly video game plots can get.
Tom Holland's Nathan Drake finds himself on an incredible journey that spans the globe and defies rationale — far beyond what Indiana Jones might comprehend. It's more in line with National Treasure, but even louder and with even more extravagant action, which is a good thing with such a by-the-book screenplay that submits itself to the kind of spectacular events made for controllable game playthroughs.
Fans of Naughty Dog's cinematic series about Nathan Drake's exploits will find a younger Nathan portrayed by Holland. Mark Wahlberg co-stars as Victor "Sully" Sullivan, who encounters Nathan for the first time — well before their longstanding and much-storied partnership.
Sully's chasing Ferdinand Magellan's lost fortune — from the House Of Moncada — but so is the House's prodigal son, Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas). It's Sully and Nathan vs Santiago and his assassin sidekick Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), but there's more at stake than just riches for Nathan. Sully's the last person who's seen Nathan's brother Sam alive — searching for the same treasure. If Nathan locates that missing gold, maybe he'll reunite with Sam after many lonely years.
It's a film almost a decade in the making — dating Sony's first intentions to bring Nathan Drake to the silver screen — which initially had Mark Wahlberg in the Nathan Drake role. You can't ignore the specter of doubt surrounding movies like Uncharted that get stuck in development hell, but Fleischer handles the challenge well. Newcomers to Nathan Drake's legacy and die-hards, who've maxed out their Uncharted Playstation achievements, are on equal ground given how this prequel starts fresh. Nathan is a cocktail-swinging New Yorker who Sully selects to go on the adventure of a lifetime — there's not much else to know about the backstory outside Nathan's brotherly woes, sticky fingers and the constant reminder that Nathan should trust no treasure hunter.
Tom Holland's performance as Nathan Drake overcomes the two biggest fears headlining internet conversations. Could he prove why the fan-favorite, Nathan Fillion, wasn't selected as the picture-perfect Nathan Drake? Would Holland be able to shed the "young Marvel hero" persona that's currently his brand? Both questions are answered by a certainly no gruffer and yet believably action hero-y Holland, whose chemistry with Wahlberg is double aces. The two swindlers and thieves maintain an antsy repertoire that proves why you can't trust swindlers and thieves but slowly builds their relationship into more than just throwaway accomplices. Nathan's pure heart and Sully's cynical business approach lead a winning expedition into action-comedy beats that don't skimp on either (it's humorous only when appropriate).
As accomplices and villains get involved, Holland and Wahlberg only shine brighter. Sophia Ali's presence as rival-slash-helper Chloe Frazer is the foil to Nathan's innocence as her guile gets her what she wants and keeps both men on their toes. Assassin, Tati Gabrielle, is a stone-hardened badass who rightfully amplifies tension whenever her knockout killer character, Braddock, steps into the frame. Antonio Banderas is there for namesake appeal and to sip fancy liquors while Braddock does the heavy fight choreography lifting — which Gabrielle executes with ease. More Tati Gabrielle in ass-kicker roles, please!
As for the adventurer perils and mega-sized action set pieces of Uncharted, expect plenty of "oohs" and "ahhs". Everything from ancient temple chambers with signature traps, like water floods and shot arrows, to aerial ship battles as helicopters transport centuries-old wooden vessels with working cannons. Fleischer ensures that countless sequences feel at home within video game structures by throwing logic to the wind in favor of excitement — especially when recreating the ludicrous survival mission that is Uncharted 3's cargo plane crash. It's "big" and "loud" in all the right ways, reinforced by Nathan and Sully's wisecracks as they defy death— whether free-falling miles above ground or parkouring across Spanish rooftops. There's an Indiana Jones glimmer to it all through winks and nods, but Uncharted easily keeps stride with the classics.
Against all odds, Ruben Fleischer breaks the Uncharted curse and has created something franchisable that puts (and keeps) butts in seats. Tom Holland has laid the groundwork for a Nathan Drake he can mature into, the same for Mark Wahlberg's curiously cat-friendly version of Sully. The swashbuckling, conquer-the-world, no-fear nature of Uncharted is alive and well in this enjoyable blockbuster treat. One that wears its intentions proudly like the gaudiest golden jewelry, somehow sporting the charisma and bravado to pull off the whole nutty ensemble.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.