The Last of Us: Episode 1 And 2 - Review
"The Last of Us," the highly-anticipated HBO series based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name, is a truly remarkable viewing experience that will leave you captivated from start to finish. The show expertly adapts the game's powerful storytelling and characters for the small screen, delivering a thrilling and emotionally charged journey through a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a deadly fungus.
20 years after a pandemic has radically changed known civilization, infected humans run wild and survivors are killing each other for food, weapons; whatever they can get their hands on. Joel, a violent survivor, is hired to smuggle a 14 year-old girl, Ellie, out of an oppressive military quarantine zone, but what starts as a small job soon transforms into a brutal journey across the U.S. A video game adaptation worthy of seeing! It just goes to show what can happen when you follow the source material, bring on the same people responsible for the success of the game, pour your heart into it, and have the original creator take the helm. Big props go to the creators and crew. Together they brought one of the greatest video games of the past decade to the real world.
Every aspect of this show, from the cinematography, the editing, set design, music, special effects - it all perfectly encapsulates the tone and atmosphere from the game, and it all feels real. There is no shortage of excellence in this season opener from any department or performer. Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann have created great television that not only honors its video game predecessor, but dives deeper into the world it created. Episode 1 with an hour and a half run time has set the tone for a series that I am very compelled to watch.
The second episode of The Last of Us begins with yet another cold open that demonstrates Neil Druckmann's desire to expand this world beyond the scope of his original game. Although it is not required for Joel and Ellie's journey, it provides compelling information that serves as an explanation of how the fungus works for newcomers as well as fascinating new context for those who are already familiar. In a chilling sequence that sees all hope drained from Professor Ratna thanks to a fantastically nuanced performance, we are thrown into 2003 Jarkarta and witness the very start of the pandemic that will soon sweep the globe. It ends with the loudest of suggestions, the bombing of an entire city, in a scene filled with quiet dread. It is extremely effective and efficient.
With nature's reclamation of every building, car, and dining table in full swing, set design remains one of the show's high points. Every turn serves as a reminder that these once-bustling cities no longer belong to humanity, as fungal strands twist through the streets like the electricity that once powered them. No image is more striking than the mass gathering of an infected colony seen from above, accompanied by Tess' chilling explanation of how they can function as one organism. A group of that size is frightening, but sometimes just one different type of infected can instil much greater fear.
It's an action scene that fits the world's aesthetic perfectly: horrible looking, inelegant, and brutish. The episode also makes excellent use of sound. Faraway screams, anything resembling a clicking sound, and even a frog hopping on a piano key could set me off. Tess has one of the more captivating screen exits in recent memory as a result of this ending. We may not have known her for that long, but her presence will be felt not only by us, but also by Joel, who is clearly upset by her sacrifice in a scene brilliantly played out by both Torv and Pascal. Even if it doesn't have the same gut punch as it did in the game because we've spent so much time with it. The frankly revolting kiss of death validates Druckmann and Craig Mazin's inventive decision to use tendrils rather than spores to spread the fungus.
The Last of Us by HBO is a magnificent adaptation of one of the most affecting stories portrayed in video games, bringing Joel and Ellie's journey to a whole new audience. It develops out the environment of the game while also mixing up some things to almost entirely stunning effect, taking the spirit of what made the original story so enduring. It delivers an enriching entertainment for fans of the PlayStation hit, while also remaining welcomingly thrilling to newcomers, thanks to two superb lead performances from Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal.