The Last Of Us Review: Apocalyptic Good Video Game Port


Adapting favorite stories for new media can be a risky business. Do it right (Game of Thrones) and you’ll laugh all the way to the bank. Do something wrong or change something in a way that the fans (Sonic) don’t like, and it can become very unpleasant, very quickly. The Last Of Us development team seems to know about this. Their mega-dollar series about famous post-apocalyptic video games rarely deviates from the source material.

If you’re not familiar, here’s the basics: Joel, a ruthless but kind-hearted smuggler played by Pedro Pascal, lives at the end of days infested with zombies that have killed almost everyone he’s ever known. Against his better judgment, he agrees to accompany 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) through the now barren wasteland of America, dodging desperate survivors who will rape, kill and even eat them if they want to. Why would Joel undertake this dangerous mission? Ellie is immune to the zombie virus, and if she is delivered to the right doctors, you can get a precious vaccine.

As a concept, this is nothing new. “The Walking Dead” perfected a brutal horror about a pandemic more than a decade ago. And with the arc of Joel—a grumpy loner softened by an energetic young man—Pascal repeats the same ground as his Star Wars spin-off “The Mandalorian.” All this smells of shameless profit, selling the same content to the same people. And yet co-authors Craig Mazin and Neil Drakmann, the latter of whom also wrote games, managed to refresh the familiar.

Take, for example, the first series. Large details correspond to the game frame by frame, but those fragments that do not give it new significance. There’s a prologue in which scientists mock the idea of a worldwide outbreak, cringe-inducing when you recall our own government’s woefully unprepared response to the coronavirus. And later, in the second episode, we return to Indonesia, where scientists discover the disease for the first time. If you watched “Infection” during isolation (and many did), you will notice some interesting parallels.

Other additions include the heartbreaking backstory of Bill and Frank’s lovers (played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett); the brutal Kansas City revolutionary Kathleen played by Melanie Lynskey; and the debut appearance on screen of Ellie’s mom, Anna (Ashley Johnson, who voiced Ellie in the games). Mazin and Drakmann decided to expand their world, rather than remake it, filling in the gaps that had previously remained unfilled. This wisely avoids disputes and should protect hardcore fans from foaming at the mouth, as if infected.

If you haven’t played the game—and many won’t— then it works just as well. The adventures of Ellie and Joel — on foot, on horseback and by car — are filled not only with breathtaking views, but also with exciting scenes. The mechanics of television means that there are much fewer combat scenes (no one wants to sit through nine hours of repetitive shootings), but “One of Us” is not about that anyway. It’s about a moving relationship at its core, fueled here by the effervescent chemistry of Pascal and Ramsey. Joel is simple on the outside, but underneath he hides boiling emotions. He’s Clint Eastwood for the PS5 generation. 19-year-old Ramsey demonstrates an amazing range for her age: Ellie turns from a traumatized teenager into a funny cool clown and back in a matter of seconds. With her sarcastic wit and audacious humiliations, she adds much-needed levity to the series, and sometimes fully supports it.

If there’s anything to criticize, it’s that some characters feel underused. Brothers Henry and Sam, hiding from Kathleen for “collaborating” with her enemies, represent some of the best moments in the first season before disappearing after one episode. The same goes for Ellie’s best friend Riley (Storm Reid from Euphoria) and Tommy, Joel’s brother, played by Gabriel Luna. It is clear that the main focus should be on our central duo, but a slower pace could mean more development elsewhere.

Although these are quibbles. When “The Last of Us” was announced, some Internet users exploded with anxious anticipation, some joked that Ramsey didn’t look like Ellie enough. Gamers have been burned by poorly thought-out adaptations of their favorite games before, so they were naturally skeptical. But they shouldn’t have been. The Last Of Us may lack new ideas, but when it’s so good, it can get away with it.

The Last of Us” will be broadcast exclusively on Sky Atlantic and NOW from January 16.


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