Uncharted opens with an image of Tom Holland falling.
We soon see he’s dropping from the skies, in deeper and deeper peril as the first few minutes unfold. For an actor now noted for driving the Spider-Man franchise into the $1 billion club a few months back, it’s appropriate to focus on the “action” side of Holland. Like that other star named Tom (Cruise), Holland is not one to look down his nose at a viable future career path. He may still look like Peter Parker, high school geek, but in Uncharted, he’s paired with Mark Wahlberg, taking on that most perilous of movie gambles: the video game-turned-action movie. In that respect, Uncharted (based on a PlayStation game) is good, dumb fun, without much of a thought in its head except getting its two affable leads closer to $5 billion in gold.
The hook is that it’s gold gathered by Magellan, somewhere on his journey around the world, and scheduled to sail back to fill Spain’s coffers, before the explorer meets his untimely fate at the hands of Lapulapu; and though the final third of the movie is said to take place in Kiamba, Sarangani, none of it was actually filmed here.
Holland plays Nathan Drake, an orphan teen from Boston who loses touch with his brother Sam before going on to become a streetsmart petty thief. He meets up with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg), who’s got bigger plans for a score — finding the aforementioned gold treasure — and off we go.
First they have to steal a gold cross from an auction house before rival treasure hunter Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his lethal partner Jo (the striking Tati Gabrielle) can bid for it. Then they all have to learn to trust one another to combine the cross with one obtained by Chloe (Sophie Ali) in Barcelona.
Will any of this make sense? Maybe not much, but it will involve some eye-popping action scenes, and a finale involving 500-year-old galleons airlifted by helicopters and boarded by pirates mid-air. And that’s all you really need to know.
To its credit, Uncharted knows what it is, and doesn’t stand in the way of its own good time. Sure, its title makes no sense — all the locations are clearly spelled out on a series of surprisingly modern-looking ancient maps. But director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) knows how to play off the bro-venture skills of its leads. Wahlberg is comfortable playing the seasoned, missing big brother figure, and Holland not only shows off his parkour skills — bouncing off of walls and buildings, skills seemingly left over from his Spider-Man training — he also does a little “flairtending” behind a bar (a nod to Cruise’s bottle spinning in Cocktail, perhaps), and shows he can carry an action film beyond Spidey. Well, as much as you need to “carry” a movie that has the frenetic pulse rate of a 12-year-old PlayStation user.
Since it’s a bro-venture, it’s worth noting that the women here don’t have a lot of say in the story, other than to act contrary or vexed, or sometimes downright nasty and lethal. A shame, because Ali and Gabrielle could’ve brought a lot more to the party. Their action chops are equal to Holland’s and Wahlberg’s, and we would’ve liked to see a little more representation from the female gender.
This is, by design, a guy-centered movie, the plot catered to a particular part of males that remembers being young boys, playing pirates or soldiers in imaginary backyard junglescapes. And though it’s fun to see whatever location is standing in for the Philippines, it would have been more fun to see some actual Filipinos onscreen. Still, you can only use Ned (Jacob Batalon) in one Sony franchise at a time.
I can’t help thinking also that there’s plenty of juicy material in the Magellan lore for another franchise, perhaps one told from a local perspective, if some Pinoy screenwriters want to get cracking on that. You could even make it into a video game.