Another true life story, this time that of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Hunnam), who along with his number two Henry Costin (Pattinson) explored and mapped part of the Amazonian jungle of Bolivia in the early years of the twentieth century and found what he believed was evidence of a long lost advanced civilization – hence the title. But back in London his sponsors at the Royal Geographical Society didn’t believe him.
This is the boy’s own adventure style territory of H. Rider Haggard of “King Solomon’s Mines” fame. But life, certainly as portrayed here, is nothing like as exciting as fiction. Director Gray establishes his main characters effectively in London – Percy, for whom the expedition is a means of rescuing his family’s reputation; Percy’s wife Nina (Miller) and the mandarins of the RGS – but once we get into the jungle, which is nicely though not spectacularly filmed, things get distinctly dull. Mapping new territory in real life must indeed have been a slow and repetitious procedure but it doesn’t make for great cinema. Nothing really happens in terms of dramatic development for a very long time. Perhaps the writers stuck too closely to the facts here. A more interesting relationship between the explorers and the native communities might have helped. We don’t really learn very much about them or their way of life, apart from the fact that they aren’t keen on the intruders and give them a hard time.
Things liven up in the second half when Fawcett and Costin return to the jungle with a rich sponsor, James Murray (Macfadyen) who turns out to be a total liability. But it is the scenes of Percy in conflict with the geographical establishment and his domestic problems which provide the most interest. Hunnam does a good job of bringing life to a sometimes rather wooden role and ages nicely, Miller brings a bit of fire to her unrewarding task as the wife left largely to bring up her family on her own and the very talented Tom Holland makes a late appearance in the film as Percy’s teenage/young adult eldest son Jack, bringing a bit of fire and life to the proceedings.
The film ends with Percy and young Jack returning to the Amazon in 1925 in a last effort to find the lost city of Z. In these scenes writer/director Gray and David Grann, author of the book on which the film is based, can finally let rip their imaginations loose without having to stick to the known facts. Because we don’t know what happened to Percy and Jack. They went into the jungle for that final expedition and were never heard of again.