By the time the Uncharted movie gets made, Tom Holland will be old enough to actually play Nathan Drake. It's the obvious joke, isn't it? That Sony's origin story has been delayed so many times, its sprightly star will be the grizzled 30-something of the games when shooting finally begins, with original lead Mark Wahlberg now more likely to be cast as Drake's quinquagenarian father figure, Sully.
It's a fair assessment: October will mark the 10 year anniversary of the film's announcement under the direction of David O Russell, who later quit, as did his replacement Neil Burger, and then four other directors afterwards. The script has been rewritten more times than the sign on my whiteboard that reads 'It has been 0 days since the Uncharted movie fell apart.'
Perhaps the issue is that Nathan Drake simply isn't very interesting as a young man. In the games, the couple of flashbacks to his early life – both as a child and a teenager – serve only to add further layers of delicious complication to the character we've come to love as an adult man.
It's important to remember who Drake was designed in opposition to. Back when Naughty Dog conceived Uncharted, Lara Croft was still the dominant gaming portrayal of a treasure hunter. She was dry, quippy, and distant. She had a mansion, and a butler who she sometimes trapped in the freezer. In that context, the radical thing to do was to follow Indiana Jones' example, and make the adventurer relatable. Human, even.
"Indiana Jones is not aspirational in the way that Lara Croft is," Uncharted writer Amy Hennig told Designer Notes. "He gets sweaty and dirty and beat-up and scared, and he makes mistakes. What you need is this completely down to earth, rumpled, dirty, flawed hero."
A flawed hero
From Naughty Dog's very first pitch, that was Nathan Drake. The studio, then best known for gracing PlayStation with merchandisable mascots like Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, designed an animation system that allowed their new hero to trip and stumble, and to flinch under fire. And that physical fallibility was reflected in his psychology, too.
When we first meet Drake, we might be controlling his feet and fingers, but we're viewing him through the camera of Elena. And what she sees is a man who doesn't pay for his permits, makes oblique references to time spent in Panamanian jail, and takes the money of journalists before abandoning them on remote islands.
Drake isn't his real name – it's the one he took to gain a sense of history after growing up an orphan. Francis Drake's motto, as Nate likes to point out, is "Greatness from small beginnings." But as the games open, there is nothing small about Drake's beginning – the adventurer has already secured too much of a legacy.
Wherever Drake flies – Yemen, Borneo, Nepal – he's confronted by his past. Adventuring turns out to be a small industry in which everyone knows everyone, and Drake never meets a crook he doesn't have history with. Pirate captain Eddy Raja, cockney magpie Harry Flynn, trust fund treasure hunter Rafe Adler – they're all former business associates turned enemies by an ugly trail of double-crossings. There's an undercurrent of karma to all of Drake's suffering as a result.
Uncharted movie is set to start filming in 4 weeks after over a decade of development hell, and it is drawing inspiration from Uncharted 4.
A couple of hours into the first game, Elena is comfortable dubbing Drake a "no-luck tomb robber", and it's hard to argue with her conclusions. It's clear from the outside that the dashing rogue shtick has a sell-by date, and that after a couple of decades of selfishness Drake is going to have to start caring about other people and the impact of his actions, or else he'll be undone by them.
What Drake has always had on his side is charm and a slippery quality for survival, characteristics held in common with fellow thief and womaniser Sully. Drake's surrogate paterfamilias is charismatic and hardy, but he's also alone - a view into Nate's future if he doesn't change track.
The trouble is that Drake's a gamophobe; one who fears commitment. He runs out on Elena and his marriage not once, but twice, his brain turning to shiny MacGuffins that can distract from the hard work of filling the hole at his centre. Uncharted 4 concerns an early mid-life crisis, a retiree firing nerf guns in his attic to recall old glories and fretting about obsolescence. It's a fear that leads him to lie to his wife and risk his comfortable future for yet another red herring.
Young men think they're invincible; older Drake is a man who, after hitting his thirties, becomes acutely aware of his mortality and past mistakes. To let you in on a secret: we all do. Without that relatable edge of desperation, that anxiety about change, there's no jeopardy beyond the next jump over a chasm. It's greying, guilty Drake who ought to appear on cinema screens.