Spider-Man: No Way Home

Uncharted

20/02/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Has there ever been a truly satisfying movie adapted from a video game? Not that I’ve seen.

It’s a conundrum when you consider that most games are cinematic in their scope and yet, time and again, they somehow fail to make the transition. Uncharted has been wallowing in production-hell for a very long time. Indeed, the original plan was to have Mark Wahlberg play young adventurer Nathan Drake, but time has moved on, and he has to be content with playing the father-figure, Sully, to Tom Holland’s Nathan.

Holland, fresh from box-office-conquering success in Spider-Man: No Way Home, could probably have chosen pretty much anything for his next project, so it’s interesting that he’s gone for this. He’s a self-professed gaming fan, so perhaps that’s what lured him. I should perhaps state at this point that I have never played the Uncharted game – in fact, apart from a few goes at Tomb Raider way back in the day, I have never felt the need to scratch the gaming itch.

Uncharted is a fun project, which makes no secret of the fact that it’s highly derivative, borrowing heavily from films that have gone before it: a splash of Oceans 11, a measure of National Treasure and a great big dollop of Indiana Jones. Indeed, the script, put together by no less than five screenwriters, openly references the latter movie several times, just in case we’ve missed the allusion.

When we first meet Nathan, he’s hanging grimly onto a shipping container trailing out of the back of a transport plane (as you do), a sequence lifted directly from the Playstation game that inspired the film. It’s pretty full on for an introduction, but happily the story then skips back to young Nathan’s life in an orphanage and his hero worship of his younger brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow). Sam is obsessed with the idea of finding treasure – specifically the lost gold of Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. But after breaking too many rules, he’s obliged to skip town and, after that, Nathan only hears from him occasionally, via a series of mysterious postcards from all around the world.

Back in the present day, Nathan is approached by Sully, who’s looking for somebody to help him find a lost treasure and, of course, it turns out to be the same one that Sam was looking for all those years ago. Sully also mentions that he knows Sam, so Nathan dutifully enlists with him. What follows is an elaborately plotted heist-treasure-hunt-action-spectacular. Thrown into the mix are Antonio Banderas as the ruthless Santiago Moncada, a man whose family history makes him believe the treasure rightfully belongs to him, his vicious hench-woman, Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who is very handy with a blade, and another treasure seeker, Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who might be trustworthy, but probably isn’t.

The action set pieces are nicely done, though the film’s 12A certificate sometimes jars with the onscreen violence. Vicious punches leave not a hint of a bruise and there’s what must qualify as the least bloody throat cutting-scene I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. It just feels odd. But I enjoy the banter between Nathan and Sully, and a climactic sequence featuring helicopters and Spanish galleons is definitely a highlight.

All in all, this is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, but there’s nothing in Uncharted that will linger long in the memory. Fans of the game will doubtless complain that this doesn’t stick closely enough to the source material, while for me, the inevitable post-credit sequence which teases a second instalment, doesn’t feel in the least bit tempting.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Spider-Man: No Way Home

17/12/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

I’ve seen most of the superhero movies and the one franchise I consistently enjoy is Spider-Man. I suppose it makes perfect sense. I was a big fan of the comic books back in the day and the films – all three of the major strands – have always had that lightness of touch that somehow steps aside from the pomposity of so many Marvel projects. Played mostly for laughs, the ‘Spidys’ have a levity about them, as their young protagonist goes about his heroic duties, whilst trying to woo his girlfriend and ensure that he gets a proper education.

I was somewhat apprehensive when I picked up on the various rumblings about the Multiverse (inevitable, I suppose, after the success of Lord and Miller’s wonderful Into the Spider-Verse) and also, the heavily-trumpeted presence of a certain Doctor Strange, but, as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. While this is undoubtedly the most complex Spider-Film to date, the sparky script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers manages to keep things moving briskly along. Every time a scene threatens to become too portentous, they throw in a snarky comment or a bit of tomfoolery and everything blurs back into motion. The two hour running time is never allowed to drag.

No Way Home picks up at the cliff-hanging moment where Far From Home left off – with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) being publicly outed. The ensuing fallout from that event kickstarts the new film straight into action and it barely stops to take a breath. It all feels horribly real as Peter, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are trolled, mocked and despised by the right-wing buffoons who have been listening to shock-jock, J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons). It’s weirdly prescient.

Feeling cornered and understandably worried about those he loves, Peter has what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He approaches his old pal Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to reverse time (as you do) so everyone will forget that he’s actually our favourite neighbourhood web-slinger.

Needless to say it’s a very bad idea.

Strange’s celestial tinkering accidentally opens a breach in the Multiverse and, almost before Peter knows what happening, he’s being pursued by adversaries from across time – they include Doc Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and many, many others, most of whom are astonished to find that Peter doesn’t look anything like the man they remember, but are perfectly happy to try and kill him anyway. Luckily, he doesn’t have to fight them off single-handedly, because he’s offered help from an unexpected quarter…

As is so often the case with these movies, there’s an extended super-powered punch-up at the conclusion, but even this is saved from becoming tedious by liberal deployment of the aforementioned witty dialogue – and there’s a surprisingly poignant coda to the film, which ties all the multifarious strands neatly together. Holland has hinted that this may be as far as his involvement will go and I have to say, if he does choose to step away, he’ll be leaving a very accomplished trilogy to remember him by.

Mind you, it’s clear that this won’t be the end. A post-credits teaser dangles the dubious prospect of a Spawn/Spider-Man mash up, which really isn’t something I relish, but Sony are bound to want to involve their other big-selling franchise at some point, so we’ll see what happens on that score.

Those who are willing to stay in their seats till the credits stop rolling will be rewarded with a trailer for the upcoming Dr Strange movie, which looks… strange, to say the very least.

But meanwhile, No Way Home is well worth your attention. Even unapologetic spandex-haters should give this one the benefit of the doubt. Because, you know what? It rocks.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney