Monday, February 21, 2022


I joked in the preview post that I figured I'd be rooting for Antonio Banderas's villain in this movie, but it's really kind of amazing how he's actually the only one who gets some sort of window into his character. I mean, I get a wealthy monster who wants to restore the glory of his family name only to see his father dismantling the empire before it's passed on to him. Meanwhile, Nathan Drake is kind of a generic punk who knows some history, and there's so little honor among thieves that the movie doesn't even try to come up with a reason to root for him. He's the protagonist in the games, where you sort of imprint your own self on him, and that's that.

Anyway, I'm mildly curious what fans of the games think about it - it seems like a basic enough adventure movie, but not a whole lot more. I also remember that folks were fan-casting Nathan Fillion for Nathan Drake for a long time - the sort of thing that made me wonder if he's the next generation's Bruce Campbell, a guy best known for working with a certain filmmaker and good at a sort of arch cool that lets the audience in on the joke - and I can sort of see that; I suspect this would have worked a bit better with Drake kind of winking at the camera a bit, kind of making him our scoundrel. Some folks are built to connect with an audience that way, but I don't know that Holland has built anything close to the charming rogue pesona that would allow that.

I do have to admit, I was kind of amused by the "PlayStation Productions" logo which included a whole bunch of characters I didn't recognize at all given the same sort of hero shot as the superheroes in the Marvel and DC animations. Do they have the same sort of cachet, even just limiting it to the under-40s? After all, Marvel did the work to have people recognize and care about Iron Man and the Black Panther, and the Justice League characters have been icons for generations, but what's the situation like out there for the PS characters? Like, are they well-known even if you're mainly an XBox or Nintendo person? Ah, well. I'm old.

Anyway, two last things: First, If your movie isn't going to show some arterial blood spraying all over the place, don't have a character whose main thing is slitting throats. Ya just look foolish.

Second: Is this being released in 3D overseas? There are a couple of shots that are pure "tossing things at the audience" that just look silly without a 3D conversion, but I didn't see any stereo stuff in the credits. Was that the original plan only to have Sony scrap it but not tell the folks editing the movie?


* * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2022 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

I gather that Sony has been trying to make a movie out of their Uncharted series of video games for years, and as is often the case with long-gestating adaptations, it's easy to both understand why that would be the case and see how this sort of thing is much harder than it looks. The raw materials for a fun adventure movie (and series) are right there, but as in a lot of things making the jump from games to film, the story and world-building that are enough to get a player character from one setting to another are not necessarily suited to more conventional storytelling.

Here, that's 25-year-old Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) tending bars and picking pockets in New York 15 years after his older brother lit out from the orphanage because both were prone to that sort of mischief. He's visited by Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who says he has teamed up with Sam Drake on various treasure-hunting expeditions and thinks the younger Drake may be of help in chasing down his white whale, a lost treasure hidden by Magellan's crew that, in classic pulp adventure fashion, one would find by collecting two jeweled crosses and using them to solve a riddle in the captain's diary. The other is in the hand of Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), and they have a massive rival in Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), the descendant of the aristocrats who originally funded Magellan's voyage, and soldier-of-fortune Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who may be the woman who killed Sam.

There are a lot of issues with how this all plays out, but maybe the biggest problem is that Antonio Banderas as a villain with limited screen time is more charismatic than Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, and Tati Gabrielle combined. And on top of that, his character is the only one that seems to care about something in the abstract besides gold. The five credited writers really do nothing to invest the audience in Nathan as the central character a few flashback minutes with his brother, making him come off as a punk, but not necessarily an interesting one (they could lean into him being a guy fascinated by history but not cut out for college, or a misfit among petty criminals, but don't). And while having everyone be fairly mercenary in more or less the same way - other than Braddock seeming a bit more willing to kill - opens the screenplay up to backstabbing and double-crosses, it also means that they don't mean much. What's the difference between Drake being sold out by Sully and him being sold out by Chloe? Nothing, really they're four instances of the same character. Throwing a "this belongs in a museum!" Indiana Jones type in would help create some actual tension, let alone someone with qualms about this gold being stolen from various indigenous peoples.

Instead, they walk around solving the sort of puzzles that are great fun in games but which have just sort of become rote in this sort of pulp adventure story even if you don't spend a whole lot of time wondering who's been resetting the traps over the centuries, or if the folks converting an old marketplace into a chain pizza shop never noticed that there was a hollow space behind one of their walls. There are a great many bits of the story that fall apart either as one watches or on the way out of the theater, bits that feel like they're setting up bits of other movies and games (this film apparently slots into Uncharted continuity as a prequel), and a credits sequence that seems to mainly exist because, I presume, Sully has a mustache in the games and fans get riled when that sort of thing isn't acknowledged

It leaves the movie with a couple of admittedly well-built action pieces, although it's noteworthy that both of them - Drake trying to crawl his way back into a cargo plane from a string of crates not yet cut loose and a chase finale involving Spanish galleons suspended from helicopters - are midair and heavily VFX-intensive. Director Ruben Fleischer (along with the previz and effects teams) do a nice job of laying them out and shooting for clarity, even if there are a couple obvious digital double moments, and there's some fun swashbuckling as various characters swing about ships' masts and the like. The close-up work isn't quite so impressive - the long shots that take advantage of widescreen framing just highlight how tight and cut-to-pieces things get whenever these characters get in a fight.

It's also weirdly sanitized at times - if you're not going to show blood, don't have a character who enjoys slitting throats - and often appears to rely heavily on folks coming in with attachments from the games rather than building something that will hook folks who don't play the series. On the upside, it clocks in at just less than two hours, which is enjoyably lean for a major action/adventure movie in this day, has a cast who makes a game effort with their non-characters, and is mostly dumb in a way that doesn't really collapse until you're out of thre theater. That is, perhaps, as good as one can expect from a movie that has passed through so many hands, and at least holds out hope that maybe a sequel might have something to build on.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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