Even more frightening than the monsters within the fungus filled post apocalyptic world of The Last of Us is the supposed curse of the video game adaptation. There’s a long and prominent history of poorly executed failures stretching all the way back to 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for that film as an absurdly fun and nonsensical nostalgia ride. Yet, few (if any) adaptations have succeeded in crafting a story that feels purposeful in its execution. This is one, of many, ways The Last of Us stands apart from its predecessors.
The Last of Us never feels like a desperate cash grab, utilizing the recognition of established IP to get viewers’ eyes on the screen. Each episode is important, impactful and continues the story and arc of its characters in relevant ways. Playing as Nathan Drake while leaping forward across cargo boxes dangling from an airplane thirty-five thousand feet in the air makes for a fun gaming experience; however, it does not translate outside of that gaming world without resulting in a clunky, physics defying moment of idiocy.
HBO’s The Last of Us gets a slight head start over its competition because its source material is already incredibly cinematic.One of the game’s greatest strengths is in its story. Rather than relying strictly on gameplay to entertain, it pulls players in with realistic and well rounded characters facing impossible odds. It’s the relationship between Joel and Ellie that hooks us and the series uses this same dynamic to craft impeccable drama.
Earth is no longer what it was. An unstoppable spread of deadly fungi with parasitic properties has begun wiping out the human population. Joel, played by an especially brooding Pedro Pascal, is among the few remaining people, trying to survive in a ravaged and increasingly savage world. Small towns of survivors live in fear under the oppressive thumb of military rule. Joel’s life is uprooted even further when a member of the rebellion team known as Fireflies asks him to smuggle a teenaged girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) out of the city.
Post apocalypse stories are a dime a dozen. No year passes without a handful of new attempts, and the zombie genre (which The Last of Us loosely fits into) has become increasingly popular since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later launched a resurgence back in 2003. But The Last of Us works so well for the same reasons that Children of Men did nearly two decades ago. There are so many comparisons to be made between these two properties. A post apocalyptic world filled with danger. Check. A man smuggling a young woman through a treacherous environment. Check. Bleak, yet strikingly beautiful visuals. Check.
But most importantly, they’re both stories about hope. Sure, that sounds vague and cliché, but it’s true and it works. It’s finding hope in a world that seems hopeless that gives The Last of Us the emotional weight and compelling plot it needs. And that hope stems from the growing bond between a rambunctious teen (Ellie) and a closed off old man who’d given up on everything (Joel).
I was no stranger to Sony’s The Last of Us, having first played the game upon it’s remastered 2014 release for the PlayStation 4. However, I decided to revisit the game to coincide with my viewing of the series, and what resulted was an incredibly unique experience that allowed me to appreciate the brilliance of the adaptation even more. This is, without a doubt, the most faithful video game adaptation we have ever received. Exact lines of dialogue and imagery are recreated proving that when the source material is this good, there’s no need for drastic change.
Pedro Pascal was just born to play a cold hearted killer forced to protect a young child. He revitalized the Star Wars franchise with The Mandalorian and he’s given hope to the future of video game adaptations with The Last of Us. Is there anything he can’t do? If so, I hope we never find out. All I know is, I’m hopeful we’ll get more.