The Last of Us Review – A Masterfully Executed Adaptation
by Matt Owen
The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic thriller, based on the immensely popular video game of the same name. Co-created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the show stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, and is the latest original series from HBO. Historically, live-action adaptations of video games are rarely worthwhile endeavours, but the talent behind this project was enough to warrant hefty anticipation leading up to its release. Luckily, The Last of Us ultimately exceeds all expectations, standing not only as a fantastic HBO series, but one of the best video game adaptations ever.
In short, The Last of Us centres on Joel Miller (Pascal) and Ellie Williams (Ramsey), an unlikely pair who must endure a gruelling road trip across the United States. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the planet has been decimated by a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus, Joel and Ellie must deal with mindlessly violent “Infected”, bandits, and an endless barrage of other hang-ups and obstacles. To add even more pressure, the safety of the entire human race hinges on the success of their journey.
While the overarching narrative is rather bleak, surprisingly, The Last of Us manages to be more than just a thriller with grotesque monsters and depressing plot twists. In just 10 episodes, the show offers a deluge of emotionally impactful drama, nail-biting moments of action and suspense, and even a beautiful case of romance. The story bounces between Joel and Ellie's cross-country adventure and other tales of turmoil across the country, resulting in some immersive world-building. By avoiding cheap thrills and focusing on good storytelling instead, The Last of Us succeeds with its layered characters and their nuanced relationships.
As an adaptation, The Last of Us sticks incredibly close to the source material, with constant nods and references that fans will assuredly enjoy. In fact, many scenes are shot-for-shot replications, accurately capturing the dialogue, visuals, and tone of the original game. That said, several changes have been made to keep the story fresh, including the inclusion of a few new characters, additional backstory information, and some extra moments of action. Where other adaptations falter with their alterations, The Last of Us feels all the better for it. This also makes the show equally intriguing for newcomers and existing fans alike, with a satisfying balance of direct adaptation and new ideas.
The cast is also top-notch, with incredible leading performances. Pedro Pascal continues to ride his recent career high, dominating the role of Joel. Through his line delivery, physicality, and impeccable nonverbal presence, Pascal perfectly plays a tormented fatherly figure who's willing to put everything on the line for those he loves. Likewise, Bella Ramsey is endearingly feisty as Ellie. Ramsey showcases a brilliant character transformation, from a strong-willed yet naive teen into a hardened young woman, battle-tested by the world's increasing depravity. The supporting cast is also impressive across the board, with stand-out performances from Nick Offerman, Anna Torv, Lamar Johnson, and many more.
Despite feeling occasionally formulaic for the genre, there are plenty of hard-hitting and intense action scenes scattered throughout the season. While I would've preferred a few more heated encounters and gun fights, The Last of Us effectively combines suspense and thrills with chaotic action. In particular, there are a few spectacular set piece moments that will leave your heart in your throat, even if the CGI is spotty from time to time. Even with these small hiccups, the cinematography and visual design of The Last of Us are overwhelmingly well executed.
Overall, The Last of Us is another winner for HBO, combining rich character development and spectacle. It successfully translates the source material without losing the inherent immersion that video games afford, leaving the audience awe-struck with its harrowing world and story. Whether it's your first time jumping into the narrative or you're a seasoned fan of the source material, The Last of Us is a memorable drama that deserves a spot on your watchlist.
About Matt Owen: Lifelong gamer and overall media fiend. Matt gets his hands on every new game and watches an unhealthy amount of movies and TV: action, horror, mystery, and sci-fi in particular. When not bingeing on entertainment, he enjoys reading and writing short stories, cooking, and producing video and podcast content.
Published on April 7th, 2023. Written by Matt Owen for Television Heaven.