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Why The Uncharted Movie May Be The Best Video Game Movie Adaptation So Far

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg and Uncharted
(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

For years now, Hollywood has continued to go to the well of video games when looking for the next blockbuster movie franchise. Numerous popular game properties have been turned into films, but they’ve been met with mixed success. Some have been financially successful, but many aren’t seen as very good movies. Others have been criticized by fans of the original game franchise as being poor interpretations of the game that the movie is based on.

Whether or not Tom Holland’s Uncharted movie is a “good” movie is a matter of taste, and to be fair, many critics didn’t love it. Having said that, the movie surprised Hollywood with a strong opening weekend, showing that there is an audience for the film. It also, might be, in terms of an adaptation, the best video game movie so far, as it was the most successful at bringing the spirit of the games to the big screen.

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

(Image credit: Disney)

Uncharted Was Already Inspired By Movies 

It’s impossible to have a conversation about the Uncharted games without including in that conversation the topic of Indiana Jones. Before the Uncharted movie came out, people were making that comparison, including Mark Wahlberg himself, and there’s even a reference to Indy in the film itself. But in this case, that’s a feature, not a bug.

Indiana Jones movies follow our hero as he uncovers clues to find some long-lost historic object, and that’s exactly what the Uncharted games are about. There are puzzles and action sequences, and these are two things video games in general, and the Uncharted games specifically, do well. We know that the formula works and the developers of the game franchise were clearly inspired by Indy movies when making the Uncharted games.

So in that case, making an Uncharted movie is really just bringing the concept full circle. The elements that inspired the games were inspired by movies, so now adapting those same game ideas for the big screen works well. 

Tom Holland in Uncharted

(Image credit: Sony)

Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake Is Near Perfect (And Mark Wahlberg Is Fine) 

 At the end of the day, if your video game adaptation movie gets its characters right, it’s done most of the work. Since a video game like Uncharted is about this character named Nathan Drake, the movie has to translate him for the big screen well, or the rest of it is probably a waste of time, The problem is that many video game characters are pretty two-dimensional, so making them work  can be tough. Some game franchise movies, like the Resident Evil films, fix this problem by inventing an entirely new character to carry the story.

But Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake is nearly perfect. The movie is an origin story for the character, so that allows the movie a bit of license with who this Nathan Drake is. As such, the core of who Nathan Drake is also clear from the beginning. Drake is a guy on a mission who might have a plan, but it’s evident that the plan is going to go out the window in about 30 seconds, and he’s going to be winging it the rest of the way.

The good news is that Nathan Drake is good at winging it. He’s able to observe his surroundings and figure out what he needs to do to survive the next five minutes. Once he’s done that, he’ll figure out how to make it five more minutes.  This isn't honestly that far from Tom Holland's Spider-Man. Nathan Drake just has a bit more confidence that he'll figure it out.

Mark Wahlberg as Sully maybe isn’t quite as perfect. The relationship between Sully and Nate in the games is one of a surrogate father and son, where the impression here is of bickering siblings. However, in the end, Wahlberg's character is still there to tell the kid how much he needs to shut up and listen to experience, which is the core of who Sully is.

Nathan Drake in Uncharted video game

(Image credit: Sony)

The Uncharted Movie’s Action Captures The Spirit Of The Games

It has been said before that one of the problems with video game adaptations is that they feel like you’re watching somebody else play the game. Or, in the case of the Assassin's Creed movie, literally watching the character play the game. But that never really happens in Uncharted because while some action sequences in the film are inspired by the games, many others take influence from them without feeling like you’ve seen this before or that it was more fun when you played it.

The action in the Uncharted games basically falls into two categories. There’s gunplay, where Drake needs to shoot a bunch of people dead who are trying to kill him, and there are traversal/platforming sequences where Drake needs to get from one place to another, usually via an unusual path that involves a lot of hanging off ledges and taking leaps of faith.

The first element of this action is almost totally missing in the movie. Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake barely touches guns. He does more than his share of avoiding bullets, but he’s not spending much time behind cover shooting them. It’s unclear how much experience this young Nathan Drake has with guns. He does seem to know what to do when he gets his hands on them, but they’re certainly not something he plans to use.

The other element of the game’s action, where Nate has to get from one place to another via unusual means, is heavily used in the film. However, it’s done in a way that makes it feel fresh and exciting, and without feeling derivative. While we see Holland’s Drake hanging off ledges and needing to climb to safety now and again, we also see this version of the character use a parkour-like style when chasing after one foe or running from another. This isn’t really how the sequences are handled in the games, but it still feels right. It’s a way of embracing the idea behind this element of the game but in a way that probably works better on the screen. 

Uncharted was a movie that honestly should have worked well on the big screen. It has a lot in common with traditional adventure movies, and so the deck was stacked in favor of this movie working out. Of course, it was still possible that the movie could have had more trouble being adapted. The Uncharted movie has all the pieces of what makes people love the games. Some are carried over nearly unchanged, while others have been modified in ways that make sense, allowing the movie to do things that make sense for the different medium while retaining the spirit.  

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.