The question of how far one should take influence or homage when creating something is something any amount of creatives has run into, no matter the medium. Yet it’s also undeniable that some influential touchstones can be easily messed up. For example, take a look at Ruben Fleischer’s Uncharted, a film that feels like it’s been translated into another language and then re-translated back by someone else, because of how much it bears a clunky resemblance to any number of classic action-adventure movies. In reality, if it’s title didn’t already give it away, this film is actually a loose adaptation of the popular PlayStation video game series which centers on treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his quests to solve various historical mysteries. But because the games themselves are so heavily influenced by Hollywood adventure flicks, attempting to turn them into an actual, non-interactive movie inevitably creates an off-brand approximation of familiar popcorn material. It’s a bland mix of Indiana Jones, National Treasure, Tomb Raider, and The Da Vinci Code, all only to serve a lesser than version of them.
Continuing its concept of being a loose adaptation, Uncharted, in actuality, departs from the games and invents itself as new origin story; trimming out and eluding various things from the games. Drake, originally a sardonic figure clearly modeled after Harrison Ford, is embodied onscreen here by Tom Holland, who sheds his adolescent Peter Parker dorkiness but doesn’t really replace it with anything else impactful or memorable.
We open with a quick in medias res opening (missing only the record scratch/freeze-frame “You’re probably wondering how I got here”) and teen prologue (which sets up Drake’s beloved, otherwise unseen older brother). But our first genuine encounter with young Nathan sees him working as a New York City bartender, flirting with customers only as a set up to picking their pockets. Almost immediately, he’s recruited by a former associate of his brother, Victor “Sully” Sullivan (a stiff and milquetoast Mark Wahlberg), who wants Drake’s help in recovering/stealing a centuries-old ornate cross that Sully claims is one of two secret keys that may unlock Ferdinand Magellan’s lost stash of gold. And Drake quickly agrees, because, why not?
That degree of rushing but functional cutscene efficiency dominates the whole movie. Rarely do we get more from a non-action scene than the absolute minimum required to move the plot forward. Non-expository dialogue frequently has the general shape of quippy banter but lacks any actual wit, or even humor. Occasionally, something legitimately energetic sneaks in, but Uncharted’s default mode is disappointingly generic. That’s especially true of its ostensible antagonist, rival treasure hunter Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), whose ruthlessness might as well be an auto-pilot setting. Only marginally more interesting are Moncado’s primary muscle, Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), and game favorite Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), whose motives and loyalties remain typically ambiguous.
What does more or less satisfy, if only because cinema is somewhat starved for them at the moment, are Uncharted’s relatively low-key Indiana Jones homages. The lifts are fairly shameless — there are set pieces unmistakably inspired by specific parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade — but it’s hard to completely screw up that combination of archaeological puzzle-solving and ancient-threat management. Yet even with those more classical set pieces, the vast majority of Uncharted feels incredibly contemporary from a blockbuster standpoint; in our age of everything skewing gargantuan, director Ruben Fleischer orchestrates multiple set pieces around physics-defying green-screen outrageousness, riffing on high-flying action scenes supposedly from the games, but ones are that also look fatally similar to something out of a recent Fast & Furious movie. By the time Drake is engaged in pirate-style skirmishes on the deck of a sailing ship being airlifted by a helicopter, Uncharted has fashioned an exhaustively detailed map of the average viewer’s Blu-ray collection and/or Netflix queue. It’s perfectly acceptable to have your influences, but it’s also important to find a sense of life in them, too. A personality-free jumble of uninspired action, Uncharted finds only faint sparks of life; most often getting stuck in a rut of blandly stiff derivativeness.
Uncharted is playing in Theaters nationwide