Tom Holland plays Nathan Drake in "Uncharted." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Video games like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia evoked classic adventure movies, but when they themselves were turned into movies, the films were just derivative. Uncharted, in theaters Friday, is a movie worthy of those that inspired the Playstation games.
Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a charming thief in New York, swiping jewelry off of socialites as a bartender. Victor "Sully" Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) offers Nathan a chance to use his skills to find big treasure.
Sully is on the trail of Magellan's lost gold. Drake and Sully are in a race against Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his henchwoman Braddock (Tati Gabrielle). Drake also forms an uneasy alliance with Sully's contact, Chloe (Sophia Ali), against Sully's advice.
The quest for gold captures a modern day Indiana Jones adventure, which is also what the Tomb Raider games and movies were going for. Drake, Chloe and Sully solve puzzles from ancient texts, and explore booby trapped chambers.
Some ancient temples clash right up against modern franchise establishments in a fun juxtaposition of how some historic cities evolved. The big set pieces encompass more of a modern visual effects aesthetic, but still evoke a video game sense of physical puzzle solving and overcoming escalating challenges.
For example, the Pirates of the Caribbean and Mission: Impossible movies have pushed the limits of practical stunts and visual effects. Uncharted raises the stakes by combining a helicopter chase and pirate ship battle.
The film obviously had to rely on green screen and visual effects elements to make that sequence possible. However, it incorporates enough of a natural environment and feeling of gravity to maintain a sense of real danger and excitement.
Drake's fight scenes and chases incorporate Parkour and a Jackie Chan style of graceful swinging over tables and railings. Sometimes a double performs impressive stunts with his back to the camera, but sometimes Holland does it facing forward. The blend of both elements creates a brisk flow.
The characters attempt to evoke a cat and mouse caper with constant double crosses. In that regard, there's minimal tension since no one ever has a strong upper hand. So the audience is never worried that the heroes won't soon prevail again.
Braddock and Chloe make memorable foils, though, both rising above the stereotypes of villainess and love interest respectively. Drake is an endearing hero who will be fun to follow on other adventures, but his relationship with Sully has less energy than classic movie buddies. Wahlberg mumbles a lot of exposition anyway so viewers may miss half their relationship.
If Uncharted were not based on a video game, it would hold its own with modern adventure movies. Since it is based on a video game, Uncharted overcomes the stigma of Super Mario Bros. and Prince of Persia to set a high score among adaptations.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.