“Uncharted” may look like another clichéd treasure-hunting thriller movie, but its charming tropes are the timeless content that many adventure-loving viewers love and admire.
Despite “Uncharted’s” star-studded cast featuring Mark Wahlberg and up-and-coming Tom Holland, fans of the popular video game that served as the film’s inspiration received “Uncharted” into theaters in February with great hesitancy. Skeptics were afraid that the long-awaited movie might flop as other gaming adaptations have. After two weekends at the box office, however, the movie seems to have survived what some have dubbed “Hollywood’s video game curse” and raked in more than $225 million worldwide.
“Uncharted” is far from the shipwreck Rotten Tomatoes and critics said it would be, even though the film’s international, danger-ridden quest to recover the long-lost treasure of a 16th-century explorer and his crew is not necessarily a new or innovative plot.
In the film, protagonist Nathan Drake, played by Holland, uses his older brother’s mysterious international postcards as his guide. The movie begins with Drake dramatically falling out of a plane over the ocean but quickly segues into a flashback scene in a closed museum where a young Drake and his older brother Sam fondly gaze at an ancient world map.
Their aspirations to explore the world together are cut short when Sam, facing criminal consequences for repeatedly breaking into the museum, flees and leaves Drake behind. Despite promising to find his way back to his brother, Sam disappears and is never seen again (that is, until the end of the film, when he makes a small cameo in a cell that hints at an “Uncharted” sequel).
The movie’s plot picks up when a young adult Drake ditches his life as a bartender who moonlights as a thief to join his brother’s cocky treasure hunting buddy Victor “Sully” Sullivan, played by Wahlberg, on a quest to find the lost fortune of the world explorer Ferdinand Magellan. After stealing Magellan’s golden cross from the rich Moncada family’s goons in a joint heist at an antique auction in New York City, Drake and Sully meet up with fellow treasure hunter Chloe Frazer, who possesses the other cross required to recover the explorers’ loot in Barcelona.
In Spain, the trio rushes through a series of booby traps with Moncada’s gang right on their heels, only to discover the loot they desire lies in the Phillippines, where Drake and his shady partners are nearly killed in hand to hand combat and forced into adrenaline-fueled, unrealistic chases across rooftops and mid-air plane cargo.
“Uncharted” checks all of the overused boxes featured in most revered action and adventure movies. A tragic backstory that leaves the main character orphaned? Check. An evil pack of villains run by the head of a rich family with cool foreign accents? Check. A pretty young woman who earns the trust of our love-dazed protagonist before backstabbing him? Check.
Daring stunts and devastating injuries that would put a normal adult human in the hospital for weeks but miraculously leave characters unscathed? Check. Cheesy lines about how friendship and a “heart of gold” are more important than physical treasure? Check. Flying off into the sunset in a stolen helicopter at the conclusion of the film after conveniently getting rid of every bad guy? Check.
A Surprising Moral Message Sets ‘Uncharted’ Apart
You might have to search a little to see it, but “Uncharted” isn’t just paying homage to an action-packed video game quest by making Holland do dozens of difficult stunts. It’s a movie that subtly communicates one of the oldest adages of time: The love of money, or in this case, gold, is the root of all evil. It’s a message that, whether viewers recognize it or not, adds moral development to the film.
All of the film’s looters including Sully aren’t afraid to lie, beat up, shoot, backstab, and even kill the people who stand in the way of the gold they desire. The rich son of the historic family who funded Magellan’s quest hundreds of years ago orders the murder of his father after he realizes he won’t be privy to his family’s fortune.
He is in turn murdered by Jo Braddock, the woman who leads his pack of goons on the chase after Drake, Sully, and Frazer. Drake seems to be the only treasure hunter who peeks at his moral compass before making rash decisions, but even he finds himself fending off Braddock’s mercenaries in less than becoming ways and intentionally misleading Frazer after she doublecrossed him first.
By the time they discover the shipwreck and ancient gold together, Drake and Sully seem to have a trustworthy relationship after the older treasure hunter lets go of his gold to save the younger one from falling into the ocean during another mid-air, heated fight with Braddock. Drake eventually rewards Sully’s sacrificial attitude with some of the treasure he recovered from the fast-sinking ships.
The movie feels like a jumbled mix of “Mission Impossible,” “Indiana Jones,” and “National Treasure,” where guns are constantly blazing yet never seem to hit anyone. Even Holland admitted that his “Uncharted” performance stemmed from his pitch to play a young 007 in an origin story movie.
It’s only natural, then, that the actor relied on his interpretation of an undercover agent to inform his role as a secret explorer. Fortunately for filmmakers and evidenced by top box office numbers, viewers don’t seem to mind the triteness or the film’s surprisingly wholesome and principled ending.
There’s no doubt that this action-packed movie captures the desire and adventure behind treasure hunting, even if it does come off as a little cliché. Because of its monetary success and the fact that the movie ended on a cliffhanger involving Drake’s not-so-dead brother, there’s likely an “Uncharted” sequel slated to begin filming in the near future.