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On Uncharted (Destiny)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Saturday, February 19, 2022, 10:12 (793 days ago) @ Cody Miller

So Uncharted was better than Tomb Raider (2018). It's an interesting comparison, for while the latter had perhaps better craftsmanship, Uncharted had more charm and heart. Mostly charm, because while Uncharted was actually about something, it felt more compulsory rather than earned.

The short version is that it gets a lot of milage out of the likability of Tom Holland and Sophia Ali, but struggles with plotting, action sequences, and most importantly emotional establishment and payoffs.

The film is essentially an original story, but with some ideas and set pieces lifted from the third and fourth games. The big theme is essentially "Is there honor among thieves?". Can they learn to trust each other? And yes, there's an arc. Not for Nate, but for Sully. I can see what they are going for there, but the complexity of emotional conflict isn't quite there, and a lot of that has to do with the setups and telling but not showing.

The film starts (after a flash forward to the cargo plane set piece, which is a bad decision we'll talk about later) at the orphanage with a young Sam and Nate. They break into a museum, talk about Magellan's treasure and adventuring together, and get caught. Sam sneaks out before the orphanage sends him away, and gives Nathan his ring.

The problem is that we then jump to the present where Nate is a bartender working in NYC. There's nothing to really indicate that he really missed his brother, or that he took that keen an interest in adventuring. In short, I just don't see that it's something he cares about. Sully shows up at the bar and asks Nate to join him. I'm thinking… wtf. Why would he possibly want this kid? Several scenes later it's explained that Sully was treasure hunting with Sam, and he thought maybe Sam told Nate some clue in the postcards he'd send him. Nate refuses, but then accepts the next scene (because every hero needs to refuse the call, thanks Joseph Campbell).

I get no sense of emotional connection or longing though. If he did care about adventuring with Sam, why would he be a bartender in NYC? Why wouldn't he already be out seeking treasure? Seeking his brother? Trying to track him down? It's a pretty unfortunate lack of setup for something that is ostensibly important later. But it just doesn't track emotionally. Like, if the film began with Nate already a treasure hunter, trying to nab something before Sully does (or perhaps even stealing it FROM Sully!), and they meet that way, I feel like that would have been so much better. You could even have a nice action piece at the start, but more importantly it would show you that Nate is passionate about it. That he really cares because it's now his life. You simply do not get that sense from the film.

And that's supposed to be the thread of the story. "I'm doing this for my brother, not for you Sully". I… don't believe you. Turns out, Sully saved himself rather than helping Sam in a past botched job. That knowledge is supposed to drive a wedge between them, but it just doesn't land because I don't FEEL like Nate really cares about Sam.

The action pieces are actually fairly reserved for something as bombastic as Uncharted. Either they are not grand enough, or they are so over the top you don't feel like anyone is in danger. One of the first sequences is a foot chase as Chloe steals a map from Sully and Nate. "Don't trust her Nate!". Seconds later she's gone. Is it a cool parkour sequence like Casino Royale? Showcasing Nate's ability to climb and stuff? Nah. They both just kind of jog through a fountain and she gets in a car. What's worse is her betrayal here undercuts her eventual betrayal later.

The cross heist feels like it lacks stakes too. In the game, only Sully is invited to the auction; Nate and Sam have to sneak in. I the film, Nate can walk right in the front door, and kind of wings it. There's a reason why heist movies usually have the characters setting up and explaining the details of the plan. If we know how it's supposed to go down, then when there's a complication we then scoot to the edge of our seats wondering how they are gonna pull it off now. When there's not much of a plan, you never have that chance.

The cargo plane was split into two sections. The very first scene has it play out as a flash forward. We joked that this was probably because audiences at test screenings said the beginning was boring. These type of things just don't really ever work. "Our movie is cool, we promise! Here's what going to happen!". The issue is that when it does come time to revisit, you already 'know' what's going to happen, and because you've already seen it, it just gets truncated the second time killing a lot of the potential flow and tension. I can overlook the ridiculous physical improbability of it, but compared to previous action sequences it's an 11 when they were a 3. I don't buy he'd physically be able to hold his own yet so to speak, and his survival seems like dumb luck rather than conscious choice, kind of undercutting the danger.

The final sequence was nutso, and I can overlook that if it were thrilling. I think a good way to put why it wasn't is to look at the approach to one particular moment. Sully has to get to a helicopter, and to do so must climb a chain attached to it. He grabs the chain, then the very next cut he's at the top climbing into the helicopter. Now, this is a really difficult act physically, and really dangerous because the chain is swinging around against cliffs and rocks and stuff. What could be an impressive and tense moment is just skipped all together. Compare this to Ethan Hunt climbing into the helicopter in MI: Fallout. The rope climb is full of fraught and peril, and once he gets there you feel like he earned it.

Likewise the gold treasure is two barrels full of trinkets. It's supposed to be $5 billion worth. In Uncharted 4, the treasure is a room filled to the brim with mountains of gold. Yeah.

Chloe and Nate do not sleep together. There is attraction. But if you want to make your theme about trust and betrayal, come on. They have to get together. The def bang in the game, so don't tell me that's going too far.

But what was right and what worked was Tom Holland's sense of decency. It was exactly what you needed for this type of 'trust' theme to work. "You're a good guy Nate. Too good". He nailed it. He was fun to watch. So was Chloe.

It was fine, but it doesn't even give the game a run for its money anywhere, and certainly doesn't match the action of other modern films.


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