The Uncharted Movie is an Entertaining but Unfaithful Adaptation

I don't recognize Nate and Sully on the big screen.

Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake in the Uncharted movie is not the Nathan Drake I know. I was initially excited to see the Spider-Man actor inhabit a younger version of the treasure hunting hero, as his casting seemed to frame the movie as some kind of prequel to the Uncharted games. But eventually, it becomes clear that isn’t the case. Holland instead stars in some kind of frankensteined hodgepodge of events from the source material rather than a meaningful addition to Nathan Drake’s story. This movie isn’t about him — it’s about a facsimile of him and his friends. It’s built upon the witty, adventurous spirit of Naughty Dog’s action games, but I don’t recognize the characters Holland and Mark Wahlberg play.

Nate’s story in the Uncharted movie takes pieces of Naughty Dog’s treasure hunter and shifts them in arbitrary ways. In a flashback sequence, we see Nate and his older brother Sam talk about their supposed lineage as descendants of explorer Sir Francis Drake. Here, the movie deviates from the source material by altering how their lineage shapes Nate’s life-changing decision to become a treasure hunter. In Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, it’s revealed that Nate isn’t a descendant of Drake at all. It’s a facade he put up at a young age, which he used to cope with his tragic childhood. Rather than telling the world he navigated the foster system after the death of his mother and abandonment by his father, he sold the lie that he was part of a great line of treasure hunters.

In the Uncharted movie, the lineage is played straight. Nate and Sam say they’re destined for great things because that’s what their parents told them. Surprisingly enough, that earnest belief doesn’t push Nate toward treasure hunting in the way admiration and coping did in the games. No, Nate is a bartender in the Uncharted movie — not one who goes home to a corkboard covered in clues and newspaper clippings in search of lost cities, but one who steals his patron’s valuables. It’s not until Wahlberg’s Victor “Sully” Sullivan shows up looking for Sam Drake’s long lost brother that Nate goes on his adventures. Sully isn’t the same suave father figure to Nate. He’s a selfish, paranoid thief who comes to Nate to find out what he knows. He worked with Sam at some point, and assumes his younger brother might have been sent information that could help his search.

The Uncharted Movie is an Entertaining but Unfaithful Adaptation

Nate and Sully’s dynamic is as intrinsic to the Uncharted movie as it is in the games, but they’re not the two characters we watched run out of the crumbling ruins of the Atlantis of the Sands together. The bond is between two people who have their names and vague amalgamations of similar backstories — ones just different enough to fundamentally alter large parts of what made them compelling before.

Uncharted: Lost Legacy hero Chloe Frazer also appears in a major role portrayed by actress Sophia Ali. The movie doesn’t go into her backstory in the same way it does for Nate, but she is the most faithful recreation of a character in the movie. She’s capable, but still empathetic as she watches the way Nate and Sully’s relationship eres into manipulative territory. Given the liberties the movie takes with Nate and Sully, I was surprised it doesn’t take the opportunity to tie in one of its fan favorites, and instead creates an original character that more or less fills the same role. Tati Gabrielle’s Jo Braddock occupies a role similar to Nadine Ross in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, who is the right-hand of main antagonist Rafe Adler. Here, Jo does for Antonio Banderas’ Santiago Moncada what Nadine does for Rafe. She slots into Nadine’s role in that game so neatly that it makes me question why the movie doesn’t let her be that character. Jo deviates from Nadine by being decidedly more cutthroat, unafraid to get her hands dirty. Given Nadine’s transition from antagonist to ally in Uncharted: Lost Legacy, maybe the powers that be didn’t want to position a beloved character in an irredeemable role. But Nate and Sully are not really Nate and Sully in this movie, so that feels like splitting hairs.

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When you push those discrepancies away, what’s left in the Uncharted movie? You have a cast of pretty competently played characters who are distinctly not the ones you know. It captures the wit and spectacle of Naughty Dog’s games in ways that manage to skirt around being consistently referential (though the plane sequence from Uncharted 3 is recreated nearly beat-for-beat). Even with less compelling characterization, the story of Nate and Sully going from strangers using each other to becoming companions ready to travel the world together in search of lost cities and treasures loops well enough. And the action, in both its smaller scale fights and its larger-than-life set pieces, is pretty entertaining throughout.

The Uncharted Movie is an Entertaining but Unfaithful Adaptation

When we talk about video game movie adaptations, they tend to fall into three different camps. Some are like the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, pulling water from stone and trying to make something vaguely referential but altogether unrecognizable. Others are like Detective Pikachu, which effectively uses video game source material but works within the confines of a new medium to tell the same story a bit differently. Then there’s the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, which captures a spirit and philosophy even if it’s wholly removed from its more tangible foundations.

The Uncharted movie falls into that third camp. It understands what makes the source material appealing, but those invested in the arcs of Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan won’t find those same stories here. It’s fun as a treasure hunting action movie. As an Uncharted movie? It’s confused as hell. Once I became at peace with that, I was able to enjoy it for what it was rather than get hung up on what it wasn’t.