It’s one of the problems of movie stardom in this superhero-driven era we live in. You’re an actor who wasn’t a star before playing a Marvel or DC hero — Chris Hemsworth, say, with Thor; or Gal Gadot, with Wonder Woman — how do you extend the brand? Not the superhero’s — yours. In olden days, meaning before the late Stan Lee started his cameo career, stars tried to avoid typecasting. Now it’s comic-book casting.
Tom Holland, whose excellence as Spider-Man has done so much to make that franchise reboot a success, takes on the challenge in “Uncharted.” He plays Nathan Drake, a 25-year-old bartender in New York. Nate comes naturally by his longstanding interest in old maps and exploration, being a descendant of Sir Francis Drake. “At least that’s what mom and dad used to say,” his older brother tells him. Nate’s also quite the talented pickpocket.
These seemingly unrelated areas of expertise come in handy when he’s sought out by Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a former Navy helicopter pilot now in hot pursuit of a hoard of gold supposedly acquired, and lost, during the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, in the early 16th century. “In today’s dollars, 5 billion, easy,” Sully estimates.
Does that description sound vaguely familiar? “Uncharted” is based on a popular video game. It has a lot in common with the “National Treasure” pictures, from the early ‘00s. And one of Wahlberg’s best movies (”Three Kings,” 1999) has him playing a character involved with a very different hoard of gold.
You will not be surprised to learn that Nate and Sully have company in going for the gold. A Spanish kajillionaire named Santiago Moncada considers the hoard family property, since the Moncadas helped underwrite Magellan’s expedition. Inevitably, he is played by Antonio Banderas. Just as inevitably, Banderas is very good. Moncada is assisted, and then some, by a deadlier-than-the-male henchwoman (Tati Gabrielle, who’s OK). Also in on the chase is a former associate of Sully’s (Sophia Ali, who’s not).
The hunt takes some or all of these individuals from New York to Barcelona to a resort in the Philippines. There’s even a flashback to Boston, where Nate and his brother were raised in an orphanage — and first acquired a taste for larceny (in Boston, that is, not the orphanage).
Along the way, there are at least three double-crosses; two actual crosses, both made of gold; one vintage red Mercedes coupe; two 16th-century Spanish carracks; a very fancy auction (it’s the most entertaining sequence in the movie); a highly bravura midair action set piece that’s so casually ridiculous it almost seems ho-hum — almost. It figures prominently in the TV ads. Also, not to get too far ahead of things, the movie has not one but two Easter eggs.
Holland is personable and boyish beneath his years. Sound familiar? He gets to do lots of Spidey-ish things: leaping and jumping and sliding and swinging. Sound even more familiar? The brand isn’t so much getting extended as repurposed.
Wahlberg has the good grace to let Holland dominate things. As a character, Sully sits somewhere between (much) older brother and raffish uncle. The back-and-forth between the two characters isn’t bad.
“Uncharted” is big on isn’t-badness. Quite competently done (Ruben Fleischer, “Zombieland,” is the director), it’s mostly diverting, but not especially inspired. In a movie whose stock in trade is inventiveness, it’s never an encouraging sign when the inventiveness seems mechanical. “Uncharted” feels like a movie where six writers had a hand in the script — three for each Easter egg? — and that’s only the ones with an actual screen credit.
A good comp wouldn’t be the “National Treasure” movies, which have a real buoyancy and sense of momentum, but “Red Notice.” That’s the action movie from last fall on Netflix that was a bit of attempted brand extension for Gadot. In fairness to Holland, “Uncharted” works better for him than “Red Notice” does for her.
Maybe the most useful way to understand “Uncharted” is with that Mercedes in mind. That’s not because it’s the best-looking onscreen vehicle this side of the orange Saab 900 in “Drive My Car,” though it is. It’s because “Uncharted” is like a well-tooled sportscar with an underpowered engine. The car does keep going, but not at high speed. Vroom . . . vroom? Vroom . . . sputter. Brand extension is one thing. Horsepower addition is another.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Written by Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Jon Hanley Rosenberg, Mark D. Walker; based on the video game of the same name. Starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Antonio Banderas. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 116 minutes. PG-13 (violence/action, language). In English and Spanish, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.