HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ review: The greatest video game adaptation ever
Almost a decade after its release, The last of us stands among the best written video games of all time. Not only the HBO adaptation preserve its Sony PlayStation the excellence of the source material and bringing it to a wider audience, it delves into its post-apocalyptic universe in a way that will delight and surprise even the most hardcore video game fans.
The show, which will premiere on Sunday HBO Max, is set in a ravaged world, after a fungal brain infection has reduced much of the population to savage cannibals. Grumpy smuggler Joel must escort defiant teenager Ellie across the United States, for slightly awkward reasons.
It’s a fascinating journey that will leave you both amazed and horrified, with game of thrones old students Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey infusing vulnerability and humanity into this charismatic duo at every turn.
This tale begins with Joel as society crumbles in the terrifying early days of the outbreak, deftly setting up its emotional stakes in an opening that closely mirrors the game. Pascal, in a nuanced performance, breathes pain into a pivotal moment of loss, but also displays compelling decision and hints of fantasy.
A dark world
Jumping forward 20 years, we are introduced to a world where survivors live in authoritarian quarantine zones run by the tough remnants of the US military. Their rule is threatened by an unpredictable rebel group known as the Fireflies, with Marauders and Infected roaming the land.
It’s fascinating to explore, if a bit overwhelming. Early episodes are punctuated with flashbacks revealing the origins of the outbreak, an element that wasn’t in the game. Co-writers Craig Mazin (creator of HBO’s Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (game series creative director) added this to give newcomers a solid foundationbut it will undoubtedly engage players as well.
Pascal adds layers of world-weariness to his performance as we return to a hardened Joel, who has done whatever it takes to survive over the years. He reluctantly takes on the mission with Ellie, with Pascal and Ramsey’s chemistry gradually emerging as the series patiently builds a bond between them.
Ramsey’s performance unfolds more gradually, displaying more dramatic colors as we learn more about Ellie and her sense of wonder becomes apparent. It’s electric to watch the impressionable teenager learn from Joel and the other survivors they meet along their journey, especially as the focus shifts to Ellie in the later episodes.
Infected are used sparingly but stick tightly to their in-game appearances and ooze danger with every encounter. Some of the visual and sound effects weren’t finished in the episodes sent over by HBO prior to release, but these scenes were shot beautifully and will likely be extremely effective.
joy in darkness
Vitally, the dark post-apocalypse odyssey is punctuated with moments of levity and hope – mostly provided by the curious and provocative Ellie. These are usually followed by reminders that they’re trapped in a hellish world, but you’ll definitely join them the first time they laugh together.
Most of the season’s nine episodes focus on this core dynamic, but it also takes some surprising detours to tell more self-contained stories. These tales reveal how the characters find a place of tenderness and happiness in the midst of horror.
One of those dives into the life of gruff survivor Bill, with Parks and recreation actor Nick Offerman anchoring an episode that proves to be the most uplifting and haunting of the season. It massively develops a storyline that is only hinted at in-game and is a perfect piece of episodic storytelling. You might need to lie down a bit after watching this one.
The second of these will be familiar to gaming fans, revealing a formative moment in Ellie’s past. It’s extremely fun to watch Ramsey’s dynamic with a character played by Storm Reid (seen in HBO’s Euphoria)even if there is a threatening cloud hovering every moment.
The original score by game composer Gustavo Santaolalla adds a haunting sadness to the narrative, while a few pop and rock bits allude to the world that came before.
Beyond the game
Fans will be pleased to see that the adaptation largely stays true to the events of the first game, but there are some clever additions to Ellie and Joel’s main quest. yellow jackets‘ Melanie Lynskey gives new villainess Kathleen a quiet menace, her presence adding a new element to a familiar game subplot.
The show also takes the time to reveal never-before-seen moments that will make gaming fans’ jaws drop, along with countless subtle visual easter eggs and a sprinkling of clever cameos.
In contrast, Scott Shepherd (of El Camino, the sequel to Breaking Bad) appears in the later episodes as a villain that players are sure to remember. His charismatic performance anchors a story that sticks extremely tightly to one of the game’s final chapters.
HBO’s The Last of Us is an absolute triumph, delivering one of the most intense and engaging narratives in gaming to viewers and revealing exciting new aspects of the universe to those who have played the games. It’s beautifully written and the cast is impeccable, with Pascal, Ramsey and their co-stars adding layers of emotional depth and unsettling moral grayness to every moment.
Video game adaptations have a new gold standard. Roll on Part 2.
The best TV and streaming shows of 2023 you can’t miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and more
View all photos
Leave a Reply