What the Uncharted Movie Gets Right and Wrong About the Games

What the Uncharted Movie Gets Right and Wrong About the Games
Image: Sony

Last night I saw the Uncharted movie. After years and years of playing as Nathan Drake on my PS4, I had been really looking forward to this flick. Watching it was a thrill, although it gets some stuff wrong about the original games that I feel lets the whole experience down.

Not in terms of “This movie must live up to the continuity of the original games otherwise it’s trash”, but the movie gets things wrong, particularly when it comes to feel and flow. Also, Sully’s moustache. I’m never going to let it go.

Instead of being like an Uncharted movie, so to speak, the movie feels like it’s an alternate reality where that Shia LaBeouf Indiana Jones movie exists (except it’s Tom Holland). It has more Indiana Jones DNA in it than Uncharted DNA.

I kind of see this as a fatal flaw of a lot of videogame movies – they’re just action movies that have scraped games for their context, names, vibe and often soundtrack.

Although I think Uncharted gets some things wrong, it does get some things right.

WARNING!!! This is your spoiler warning for Uncharted (2022) and the Uncharted videogame series. Please turn away now if you’re yet to see or play these games!

Right: Nate and Sully’s banter

While it’s treated largely as an emotional punching bag throughout the film, that nobody really matters to Sully and that he ends up genuinely caring about Nate, I do think that Nate and Sully have a really fun dynamic throughout the film.

Nate and Sully’s relationship in the games is built on snark, as if the adventurous side and the cautious sides of Indiana Jones were split into two characters who had a constant, healthy banter. They genuinely do care about each other, but my only complaint here is that the game relationship is more healthy, whereas the movie relationship is formative, as Sully learns that Nate is, you know, worth caring about (probably because they’ve only just met in the movie).

That B-plot aside, Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg kind of aced the banter, in my opinion. Really a lot of it reminded me of Robert Downey Jr. and Holland in the Marvel movies. They had a really great banter that I think was done well. Though, the games did it better.

Wrong: Young Nate and Sully

Look, we were all critical of a younger Nate and Sully when we learned that Holland would be picking up the role of Nathan Drake and Wahlberg would be playing Sully (though he was originally cast as Drake… In 2010).

I’m here to confirm that yes, it is weird. It’s a weird joke in the film that Sully is somehow old, even though Wahlberg hasn’t aged all that much over the past 10 years. There’s not a grey hair on him, whereas with Sully from the games is proper middle-age looking.

For Holland’s Drake too, it’s a constant joke that he’s so young, and he is, but it just doesn’t translate well between the games and the movie.

There are shots where Holland truly does look like Nathan Drake – he totally has the physique and the mannerisms down, however, his face is just so… Baby. I love this baby-faced actor, but he’s just missing the look.

Not to rattle on too much about this, but it kind of took me out of the action a bit when trying to think of this movie separately from Uncharted, thinking this main character is so young that he should be on a field trip, whereas this older, mentoring character really isn’t old enough to flow with the “old” jokes. It’s weird that an Uncharted movie got this wrong about the games, but it is how it is.

Right: Quick time events

Patterned throughout the Uncharted games, but not an overly important element to them, is the odd quick time event, where the player has to mash or use a specific button to progress through a scene.

While they’re not a huge part of the Uncharted games, they’re inseparable from the medium. The movie replicates a QTE in the intense final scene, involving lighting the fuse for a cannon to shoot down a helicopter.

It takes Nate some serious lighter flicking (button mashing?) to do this and I could almost see the “TAP SQUARE” indicator on the screen during this sequence. Yeah, bravo, probably not intended as it was just a tension-building scene, but I definitely thought it was cool.

Wrong: The key scene

Uncharted: Among Thieves, Drake’s Deception and A Thief’s End each have a key scene that defines the game and sets it up for what you can expect action-wise. While the first game didn’t really have a scene that fired off on all cylinders, the second game had the train scene, the third game had the plane scene (which the movie attempts to replicate) and the fourth game has the jeep in the city scene.

The movie, however, doesn’t really have its own moment, instead being pat out by low energy scenes without any of the game’s tension (we’ll get to that). Actually, there is a key scene – the one that the movie rips straight out of Drake’s Deception (the plane scene).

It doesn’t live up to any of the game’s key scenes. In fact, the two to three minutes directly following the plane scene (where Nate and Chloe are falling out of the plane in a Mercedes Benz) has more tension than the rest of the film. That was a great watch… But it doesn’t last long at all. The key scene in the Uncharted movie is definitely handled wrong compared to the games. And we already saw it released in this teaser:

Right: The colour palette

For the first half of the movie, we’re trapped in cities and concrete-filled zones without many jungles or ruins to explore. While the lack of back-to-back ruins and jungles to explore is a noticeable difference from the games, the movie’s colour palette is bang on. As the film progresses, we get many of the greens, browns and oranges that make up the art style of the game.

The second half of the movie embraces these colours more.

Wrong: The tension

The Uncharted games have this remarkable ability to create and sustain tension throughout an entire scene, beginning to end, without any breaks – a big part of this is its focused, linear approach to game design and the omission of an open world.

The movie, however, drops whatever tension it builds up in a scene weightlessly by the end of a moment. None of the tension transfers from scene to scene. Admittedly, considering it’s largely sourced from a game, it’s hard to replicate the tension of a playable experience, however there’s just none there anyway.

Another big part of this is Drake constantly having to make plans up on the fly as things go wrong. The movie rarely hits this nail on the head, with tension evaporating as night turns to day from scene to scene.

Wrong: Sully and Chloe

We touched on this a bit earlier, but Sully’s character was kind of butchered. I know I said I liked their relationship, my colleague David Smith over on Kotaku Australia reckons the relationship between Sully and Nate doesn’t feel right until the post-credit scene. His justification for this is that Sully’s character arc just sucks. Sully is not selfish in the games, he genuinely cares about Nate. I do tend to agree that his selfishness in the movie detracts from the banter.

Chloe, too, fell a bit short. While Sophia Ali did a good acting job, despite her voice being inconsistent throughout the film, the character felt a bit one-dimensional. Yeah, the original Chloe is a bit of a backstabber in the second game, but at least the tension in the game compensates for this.

Adding to this, Chloe mentions her father as a primary motive for her becoming an explorer – saying he took treasure she once found and disappeared forever. This isn’t the case in the games, where her father was an explorer, like her. It’s a part of her arch in her solo game, The Lost Legacy, when she tries to discover the treasure he disappeared looking for.

Uncharted release date

After a long, long wait, Uncharted releases today on February 17 in Australian theatres.

If you’re now gonna give it a miss, why not check out all the other sci-fi, horror and fantasy films releasing in Australia this year.