Uncharted (2022) — a movie review (plus some stuff about cruise ships, the cubing prewriting process, and what pairs best with Good & Plenty licorice candy)

I watched the 2022 movie Uncharted, starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, on board the Carnival cruise ship Vista, during a vacation cruise to ports in Belize, Honduras Bay and Cozumel in February of this year.

The ship had an IMAX theater, and this was the only movie showing that I had any interest in. To be honest, I thought I would watch it at some later date in the comfort and safety of my home. If I watched it at all. But, it was there, I was there, and I had a few hours to kill before a dinner date with friends, so I left my wife in the cabin (she had zero interest in the movie) and watched it alone, with a theater-sized box of Good & Plenty licorice candy and a cold can of A&W root beer.

I mention the candy and soft drink only to add a couple of descriptive details and some sensory texture to my story. If this were a fictional account, I would say that I included these details for verisimiltude. Can’t you taste the combination of the sweetened licorice candy and root beer on the tip of your tongue? Do you feel the effervescent tingle of carbonation in your nose?

You know, stuff like that.

It occurs to me now that if you don’t like licorice or root beer, this sensory detail is not a pleasant one for you. For that, I apologize. However, for me and people like me, this is a pleasurable, even decadent, pairing of two great flavors. Like peanut butter and chocolate, or coconut and shrimp.

Using the cubing prewriting, or one-person brainstorming, technique allows one to study a subject from six different perspectives: description, comparison/contrast, association, analysis, application, and argumentation. This is a movie review, not an essay about writing, but you can read more about the process here, if that sounds like something you may be interested in.

The comparison/contrast and association sides of the cube usually tap into the most responses from my subconscious mind, regardless of the subject matter. The 2022 movie Uncharted has proven this to be true once again.

I’ll always associate this movie with the first trip out of the US I’ve made since the first COVID-19 outbreak a couple of years ago. That was another cruise, in fact, that one out of New Orleans, Louisiana. Not a wholly pleasurable vacation because of some interpersonal drama between a few people we were sailing with. Then, New Orleans itself became a major red blob on the coronavirus maps just after we returned, and, shortly thereafter, Sharon and I sequestered ourselves away from the rest of the world for thirteen months, until we had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Somehow, I still had a job to return to after this, and life returned to a somewhat normal state. I had to fight the impulse to call it our “new normal,” because that’s become a hackneyed phrase, even though it applies. Life will never return to its former state, at least for a while, maybe decades. I still wear a mask every day and stand behind a large plastic shield that is more symbolic than effective at the front counter of the US Post Office, where I serve the public as a window clerk.

I will also associate this movie with the Uncharted franchise of video games. I’ve played all of the Uncharted games, I think. I consider myself a fan of the series. While playing the games, I was enthralled by their many cinematic sequences and the beautiful, exotic settings. I thought that the series would make a great movie, in fact. A cross between the Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible franchises, perhaps, with a dash of James Bond and every other action-adventure movie added for good measure.

Because I’m familiar with the games, and the backstory of protagonist Nathan Drake, I had some preconceived notions about casting a movie based on the franchise. I always saw Nathan Fillion as Drake. I should add that I mean the Firefly-era Fillion, not the current The Rookie-era Fillion. So, an impossible casting choice, I know. I never really settled on who to cast as Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Drake’s mentor and slightly sketchy partner-in-adventure. Maybe an appropriately grizzled James Garner or even Burt Reynolds. Liam Neeson could pull it off, too, I’d bet.

Who did I not even shortlist for the two roles, even when my fantasy casting session allowed me to pull from any time period, using actors who may not even be alive now?

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg.

I know that Holland is older than he looks. But, I wanted a Nathan Drake with a bit more seasoning, the way we met him while playing the first video game. However, Holland is the perfect choice for playing a younger version of the character. Since this is, in most ways, an origin story showing how Drake and Sully join forces in a fantastical treasure hunt, I can accept Tom Holland in the role. This origin tale isn’t exactly what I remember from the games, but it’s close enough.

Even though Mark Wahlberg did a decent acting job in this movie, he was—in my arrogant opinion—completely wrong for the role of Sully. You know who else could have nailed it? Someone still alive and working, apparently? Mel Gibson. His reputation has taken a couple of hits over the years, but that works out okay with an obviously shady operator like Sully. Plus, he played Wahlberg’s dad in one movie I watched, if I’m remembering correctly.

It’s too soon for Wahlberg to be taking elder statesmen roles in movies. There doesn’t seem to be enough years between the two actors to make the relationship believeable. I know, I know. Holland is 25 and Wahlberg is 50. The age gap is genuine in real life. I’m talking about perceived age difference. Wahlberg is still a leading man, just like Holland is. It’s too soon for him to take a second-fiddle role, which is what Sully is.

Michael Keaton could have done it, too. He’s acted with Holland in the Spider-Man franchise as well. He could have handled Sully’s penchant for making wisecracks better than Wahlberg. I would have even allowed him to call Nathan a jagoff, if he wanted to. I know how Pittsburgh-area natives like to throw that word around.

In spite of my issues with the casting (and because I know that I probably wouldn’t have been happy with any casting choices), I enjoyed this movie. It truly evoked the same emotions and sense of wonder that the video games do. Several of the action sequences, including the opening one involving an airplane and cargo pallets and a falling Nathan Drake, seem to have been lifted straight out of the games. All of the action set pieces in the movie are exhilarating, and the backgrounds and sets and scenery are nothing short of amazing. I’m sure watching the movie in the IMAX format helped in this regard.

The story itself is both familiar and new, at the same time. Some of the things that happen seem unlikely to ever happen in what we refer to as real life, but that’s not a real criticism. My suspension of disbelief was never threatened while I watched the movie. Not even once. We’ve seen Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Jason Bourne get out of equally unlikely scrapes in their movies. You just have to watch this one with the same mindset.

The pirate ship sequence is flat-out amazing. But, I seem drawn to stories about pirates and I’ve been known to swash a buckle or two.

The other actors in the movie do good work here as well. Antonio Banderas is excellent as the mustache-twirling Big Bad treasure hunter, Moncada, even though his character motivation seems pretty thin. Something about some kind of Illuminati-type organization, maybe. Or something about killing his father. Maybe just good old-fashioned greed. That’s good enough for me.

The motivation of Drake and Sully isn’t any more nuanced, in my opinion.

Chloe Frazer is present as well, in the form of actor Sophia Ali. She’s a fan favorite character from the games, and Ms. Ali does a serviceable job in the role.

Like the games themselves, this movie is a rousing diversion from the real world. Smart, but not too smart, entertainment with a likeable cast. I can’t recount all of the movie’s plot without refreshing my memory, but I can tell you that the action never flags and the movie kept me in my seat for the full running time, something that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do as I get older. Especially if I’m drinking an A&W root beer right before the movie begins.

Yes, I liked this movie. Quite a lot.

Keep in mind that I liked the movies in The Expendables franchise as well. You get some historical facts dropped on you during the movie, but this is far from highbrow entertainment.

Firewater’s I’m-Literally-in-a-Papa-John’s-Right-Now Report Card: A

It turns out that this movie has been in development hell for so long that Mark Wahlberg was once attached to play Nathan Drake. You know what? I think I would still accept him in that role over Sully.

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