‘Uncharted’ pleasantly maps familiar territory
Amy Lenkiewicz | Friday, February 25, 2022
In “Uncharted,” a movie based on the eponymous PlayStation video game, the characters respond to death as glibly as if they can respawn. Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake, dangling from a plane, yells, “Oh, crap,” reacting to a 35,000-foot drop like a peeved video gamer playing his character, instead of a terrified adventurer hanging in midair. The brink of death does not warrant a real curse word, and “Uncharted” is all the more fun for it.
The film is not set in a video game but in the landscape of the last forty years of Hollywood adventure movies. Visual references to classic adventurers like One-Eyed Willie and the crew of the Black Pearl create the sense that Drake’s team travels through the adventure genre itself. Even the dialogue gives the borrowing a self-aware edge with the characters teasing each other about acting like Indiana Jones and Jack Sparrow.
When Drake lights a torch, he exclaims, “I’ve always wanted to try these,” encapsulating the movie’s tone towards its costuming, sets and plot. Every adventure stereotype is indulged. The characters carry binoculars, letters written in invisible ink, tiny daggers, postcards, maps, flashlights and messages in bottles. The movie neatly breaks into “spy” and “safari.” In the jungle, they wear cream Henley’s and cargo pants, but they switch to leather jackets and black jeans in the city. The spy half is set in elite auction houses, in the villain’s control rooms, in island resorts and in luxurious Spanish apartments. The safari half is nestled in thick cobwebs, in tunnels and caves, below Latin engravings and in the crypts of Renaissance churches.
For every cutlass used to glide down a ship’s sail, there is a stereotype which is turned on its head: glass will not break on first impact, villains are cut down in the middle of their evil speeches, the erotic aspects of hand-to-hand combat are verbalized, the classic “I’ll hoist you up” scene is revealed to be awkward and painful for the booster. The movie also succeeds, for the most part, in minimizing deus ex machina. The coordination behind Drake’s bartending tricks is the product of intensive workouts. His fear of nuns traces back to his time in an orphanage. Settings are mobilized: chandeliers are for swinging; fountains are not just scenery. Even cargo pants pockets are put to use.
“Uncharted,” unfortunately, borrows more than just images from 1980s adventure classics. It also borrows the typecast “foreign villain” role. Spaniard Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), accoutered with villainous black sunglasses and a flashy vintage car he refers to as “her,” exclaims, “Maravilloso,” as he surveys his stolen treasure map. A villain lazily oversimplified and presented with minimal effort, he embodies the assumption that the foreign and exotic stand as cardboard placeholders that need no fleshing out. The director’s choice to type-cast one-dimensional antagonists detracts from the movie’s ability to deepen past superficial fun. In addition, the movie is so fast-paced that the audience is not invited to work their way out of problems. The audience is only shown solutions, not the clues that lead to them.
Where most deaths are implied, gun-wielding enemies can be dismissed with a “God, those guys suck.” All that is left to do is revel in the adventure spectacle, removed from its stakes. The result is that Drake, touted by his love interest as “too good of a guy” and the perpetrator of many bloodless deaths, ends the movie cackling with his partner-in-crime about his newly acquired taste for betrayal.
What “Uncharted” really charts is the way in which Drake becomes his genre, bending to the self-preserving moral landscape of the adventure-themed world; only then does Drake win his place as protagonist.
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Taylor Ali
Director: Ruben Fleischer
If You Like: “Indiana Jones,” “The Goonies,” “James Bond”
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5