THE LAST OF US Review: HBO's Take On Naughty Dog Classic Might Be The Best Video Game Adaptation Ever Made

The Last of Us review embargo has lifted, and we're now weighing in with our thoughts on HBO's adaptation of the iconic Naughty Dog and PlayStation franchise. Find our verdict on the series right here...

Reviews Opinion

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The Last of Us is, without a doubt, one of the greatest video games ever made. With a narrative that, no pun intended, is on another level, adapting the property for film or television seems almost unnecessary. After all, how can you ever top perfection? The team behind HBO's The Last of Us clearly considered that question at some point and responded with "Challenge Accepted!" because the series is every bit as fantastic as the Naughty Dog franchise it's named after, managing to achieve the near-impossible by delivering a phenomenal adaptation that's every bit as good as the game. 

In both that and this small screen adaptation, Joel (Pedro Pascal) is tasked with transporting Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States that’s been ravaged by a pandemic which transforms people into cannibalistic creatures after they're infected by a mutated fungus. Immune to the mysterious disease, the teenage girl might just be key to saving everyone, and along the way, the duo face both those terrifying monsters and the twisted remnants of humanity. 

Chernobyl's Craig Mazin teams with Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann to tell this story, and they approach the material in a way that’s both faithful to the source material and a fascinating expansion that, dare we say it, may even improve on the game. With greater insights into the infection that ravages the world, extended backstories (including a devastating new approach to Bill), and a more in-depth exploration of reveals glossed over in the midst of exploration and combat on consoles, this is a video game adaptation done right. We’d go so far as to say The Last of Us is the best video game series ever made, and the quality of storytelling here is exactly what we’ve come to expect from HBO. With a sizeable budget, feature film quality visuals, and jaw-dropping backgrounds that make The Walking Dead's post-apocalyptic landscape look positively quaint, we can’t imagine a better take on the property than this. 

At the heart of that, of course, are Joel and Ellie. The Last of Us boasts many great supporting players (Nick Offerman, Gabriel Luna, and Anna Torv all impress), but Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are tasked with carrying the immense legacy of the two beloved characters on their shoulders. Both are perfectly cast, with The Mandalorian star inhabiting Joel in a way that, from the second he steps on screen, will make you believe in him as the tormented survivor we first met a decade ago. While a great physical match for his video game counterpart, Pascal still brings himself to the role and makes the gruff father figure to Ellie both likeable and as relentlessly brutal as what we saw in the games.

As he starts to care for Ellie, so do we, and Ramsey is an undeniable scene-stealer as the teenager who bugs Joel with questions and bad gags from a joke book she frequently reads from. While undeniably different from the Ellie in the games, the actress is excellent here and someone we hope to follow across multiple seasons of this show (assuming HBO eventually decides to adapt that controversial sequel; there are plenty of gaps to be filled in before getting there, however).

With the COVID-19 pandemic still fresh in many of our minds, The Last of Us' themes feels particularly relevant, even if the end result is thankfully a far cry from what happened a couple of years ago. While grim at times, there are moments of levity to be found, though you should go into this series expecting a story every bit as dark and relentless as the PlayStation title it’s based on. That’s not a bad thing, and just as Joel and Ellie's silly or surprisingly revealing conversations were often a highlight while exploring in the game, that’s often the case here as well. A pure character-driven tale, The Last of Us doesn’t skimp on gore and action, but it excels by never letting that overshadow what made this franchise great in the first place: Joel and Ellie. 

Perhaps just as important is the fact the show nails the horror aspect of this world. The mutated Clickers are a terrifying sight to behold, and when Joel and Ellie do cross paths with them, those sequences are every bit as pulse-pounding to experience as if you had a controller in your hand. Used sparingly, the monsters never fail to make an impact when on screen and it’s staggering to see how effortlessly those sequences have seemingly been adapted for live-action. Then again, this is a very faithful take on the material, with many scenes lifted almost directly from the games. Yes, there's the odd change that may prove problematic for some fans, but certainly nothing major to gripe about. Balancing new material with the story we're familiar with almost makes The Last of Us feel like a Director’s Cut of the 2013 classic, leaving it hard to think of a better word to describe the show than, well, perfect. 

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are incredible in The Last of Us, an unmissable, perfect adaptation of the hit video game series that manages to do the Naughty Dog title justice, all while expanding this world in thrilling new ways.


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