series reviewSony’s most cinematic game now has its own TV series, which follows the original game story extremely faithfully. Game adaptations usually turn out very badly, but The last of us is an exception to the rule.
The last of us follows 56-year-old Joel (Pedro Pascal), who must travel to the western United States with young Ellie (Bella Ramsey). The world as we know it has been devastated for decades after a fungal plague turned much of humanity into zombies in 2003. If Ellie is found to be immune to that fungus, that would seem to be the key to a potential vaccine.
The stakes are high, but the story soon fades into the background to focus on Ellie and Joel. The latter lost his daughter at the beginning of the zombie outbreak and is still struggling years later, and Ellie is about the same age as she was then. He is reserved and defensive, but as the series progresses, their bond grows closer.
“They’re not actually zombies”
The last of us is essentially a zombie story, although the series does its stinking best to convince you that the zombies are not zombies. The first scene, in which a fictional professor explains the difference between a virus and fungal outbreak, puts an end to the “zombie fatigue” that came after eleven seasons of the successful series The walking dead.
Fortunately, the viewer is treated to an army of monsters that slowly wander through the world and bite around them. Those who are bitten slowly turn into such a wanderer. The exception to the rule are the blind, dangerous ‘clickers’, who search for targets with a kind of radar. The terrifying creatures look crazy, with brightly colored fungi that have grown through their skulls and almost replaced their entire head.
Clever writing and good chemistry between the actors make the growing relationship between Joel and Ellie a joy to watch. Pascal frowns a lot and talks little, but still manages to portray a vulnerable character. Ramsey artfully balances on the border of a foul-mouthed adolescent and an insecure girl. Both actors portray their characters in a more nuanced way than in the game on which everything is based. That seems obvious, but is nevertheless clever. Also in the game version of The last of us is, with motion-capture suits and professional actors, an emotionally layered story.
Follows the game doggedly, with a few exceptions
The game’s story is followed doggedly, to the point where dialogues are often taken one-on-one. Striking for gamers, but it won’t easily ruin the experience for newcomers: the game was already written as if it were a movie or TV series, so the script fits well here.
There are a few moments where the game does deviate from the original. Joel, for example, is looking for his brother as extra motivation, which urges him to take Ellie to her destination so that he can get a car there as a reward. It makes the story a little less game-like. In the original game, Joel was a little more guided, simply because he was a controllable character without much urgency of his own.
There is also one major change later in the story, which is difficult to explain without spoilering the series. Fortunately, that change also does not affect the red line, which remains largely the same as the game. There are times when that becomes clear The last of us based on a game. Joel and Ellie, for example, are always very goal-oriented, just like how a game player always goes from point A to point B. There are few times of aimless wandering, while such moments of rest can help to further explore characters.
Here and there, the two even have to solve simple environmental puzzles, for example by moving crates or finding keys for the right doors. During shootings you can also hear the villains screaming simple one-liners. This is useful in the game, because players always have an idea of where the enemy is. In the series, it’s a bit weird. A strong story about parenting in a time of immense sadness remains intact, a theme that is addressed in different creative ways every episode. It is well written and often looks beautiful despite the sad situation – the world has been overgrown by nature over the years.
Just a good series
The last of us is ultimately ‘just’ a good series, which we enjoyed watching for nine episodes. Given that most films and series based on games come out poorly, that is good news. It may be another zombie story, but this time one that looks a lot nicer due to its high production values. And the fact that a small, intimate story between two characters is central makes the end product even stronger.
For non-gamers it is an excellent way to get the story from a previously acclaimed game in a different form. Have you already played the game? Then it is especially nice to look at the differences. Don’t expect to get anything fundamentally different here than in the game.
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