If I’d known a movie version of Uncharted was soon coming out, I would have been a bit more guarded about admitting I’m a huge fan of the game to my editor. I am a fan, but I’m also a parent now, and I can’t just leave the house on a whim for some entertainment. I need to hire a nanny to watch my kid, and like ordering popcorn and Twizzlers, that factors into the cost of catching a flick. This was this the first movie we’ve seen in a theater since Musa was born. I’m still waiting for the new Spider-Man to make it to streaming platforms, which is the only way my wife and I get to scratch our movie itch these days.
Nevertheless, I phoned a nanny to come watch my baby sleep through a baby monitor, even though he’s teething and our policy is to let him “cry it out” until he falls back asleep again anyway. While you’re judging my parenting choices, I’ll judge this movie, and my experience of paying for a lot more than a ticket to see Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg quip at each other for 90 minutes.
The premise of the Uncharted game franchise is pretty simple. You’re this super savvy treasure hunter who’s also acrobatic and can climb mountains and swing through jungles, Tarzan-style. It’s a platformer, so the game has a heavy emphasis on level buildout. Between the quiet explorations of dungeons, the shoot-’em-up onslaught of enemies trying to get to the treasure first, and the cinematic cut scenes prompting you to mash the triangle button to make it out alive by just a hair, this game makes you feel like you’re in a movie. In the actual movie, you follow the main character, Nathan Drake (Tom Holland), as he traverses a world he’d only read about in books, looking for treasures that he can’t be sure even exists, using both his brain and brawn to make it out alive.
By the time we finished showing the nanny around and relaying instructions, we were already late. “We’re only missing the previews,” I reassured my wife. It was the last movie of the night at this theater. The ticketing guy was nowhere to be found. I thought we’d waltz right in, but we needed snacks first. We didn’t ditch our baby to watch a movie and NOT get popcorn. But that’s probably what pushed our luck, and we must have walked in about halfway through the opening scene. We sat up front in the seats I call the “budget IMAX” section. As we took our seats, Tom Holland had already fallen from the plane and was flailing around in an open blue sky, dodging bullets. “Oh! I played this level in Uncharted 3!” I said loud enough to get shushed.
Uncharted to me always felt like a game that badly wanted to play like a movie; this movie often felt like it badly wanted to play like a game. Later in the film, we get a look at a young Nathan Drake breaking into a museum or something with his older brother Sam. “I think this is from the start of Uncharted 4!” I pointed out. My wife, who I think would rather have been at home sleeping, nodded along. “Yeah, very videogame-y.” The puzzle-busting elements and grandeur of being the first to encounter old tombs and storage spaces behind trick doors were entertaining whether or not you’re a stickler for the lore. Tom Holland is much younger-looking than Nathan Drake, the hero in the games, but his acrobatic and enthusiastic performance makes rooting for him irresistible.
It’s an entertaining thriller, if incredibly predictable. The excitement of chasing a treasure but the realization is the treasure was the friends you made along the way is as enjoyable as the popcorn that made us late to the first scene. If there was a sour note, it’s the unfairness of “explorers” digging for gold in a country’s backyard as if that country’s legacy has been preserved all this time waiting to be “discovered.” My family and I are Egyptian. I went to the storied Cairo Museum when I was 16 and got all excited about seeing the Rosetta Stone on display—only for the guide to tell me that that’s actually a replica and the real one belongs to the British Museum. Sometimes, deep down, I want the booby traps to win for a change. Has that movie been written yet?
In a way, the best part of this film was having time away from the baby. He’s almost one year old, and the newness has worn off a little bit. He’s now rolling over and trying to bump his head into everything, which makes it impossible for me to enjoy video games like I did when he was a tiny dumpling swaddled in a blanket. We needed a reason to justify calling a night nanny and having popcorn for dinner. We could do worse than an action adventure like this, that can double as watching sexy people taking a tropical vacation—even if it’s by way of falling out of an airplane.