HBO and streaming service HBO Max have aired all nine episodes of The Last of Us, a dark post-apocalyptic series based on the iconic video game game designer Neil Druckmann worked on with Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin. We bring the loudest TV premiere of the year.
Video game adaptations are a major headache for Hollywood. The big-budget studio productions of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Warcraft, and Assassin’s Creed fell short of box office expectations and launched strong franchises (although Uncharted still seems to be so lucky).
Unconditional financial success was achieved only by touching family films with Pikachu and Sonic, and the unpretentious action-horror series Resident Evil, in which Milla Jovovich crushed zombies. In addition, the public did not want to go to the cinema or to “Resident Evil” without Jovovich (“Raccoon City”), or to Jovovich without the walking dead (“Monster Hunter”). And yes, critics tend to destroy movies based on video games, even if they weren’t suddenly made by a famous master of bad cinema like. Alas, the universe of Resident Evil from Netflix and Halo from Paramount+ has not changed the situation either: the first was closed immediately after the first season, the second risks being canceled after the second.
The Last of Us was supposed to lift the curse on the failed genre. First, the series launched the respected HBO channel, which aired Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and Watchmen. Second, Craig Mazin, the creator of the hit Chernobyl, became the showrunner. Thirdly, the directors invited not only strong television craftsmen to the project, but also European festival stars Kantemir Balagov (“Closeness”, “Dylda”), Yasmila Zhbanich (“Where are you going, Aida?”) and Ali Abbasi (“Na border of the worlds”). True, Balagov had to leave the project due to creative differences (although in the first episode there were still a few scenes he shot). After the end of the first season, it seems that it would be possible to invite the director Yuri Bykov, the main Russian specialist in hard-to-talk brutal loners, who lived in a world of pain, loss and boredom, on the project for decades.
HBO has certainly succeeded in creating a powerful drama based on The Last of Us that can captivate not only video game fans, but also a finicky audience that will never did not take the joystick. This is a rare case when the interests of all viewers coincided: it was enough to diligently transfer events from the original source to the screen. Essentially, the ultimate cinematic video game was already a finished drama with strong visuals, philosophical questions, and charismatic yet ambiguous characters. The authors did not reinvent the wheel – the events of the game remained almost unchanged (except for the fact that the infection in the series is not spread by disputes), but Mazin and Druckmann added many details and expanded character biographies.
Enough has already been written about the plot. In an alternate year of 2023 – twenty years after the start of an epidemic that has turned civilization into ruins – smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal in another brutally tragic Silent Man role) attempts to smuggle teenage Ellie (Bella Ramsey) safe and sound across the country. Along the way, they encounter soldiers, marauders, revolutionaries, and contagious zombies infected with the Cordyceps fungus. Gradually, Ellie for Dloel turns from a “cargo” to a kindred spirit – and a fierce killer, who has already lost his daughter, finds a new child. There’s nothing radically new here for the post-apocalyptic genre: Clive Owen performed a similar mission in The Child of Man, Viggo Mortensen in The Road, Hugh Jackman in Logan.
The writers of The Last of Us diligently replicate genre tropes, but don’t emphasize the action. The series has an extremely measured pace, and the series are basically independent chapters. The best of them usually look like bottle episodes, and it is in them that Druckmann and Mazin manage to surprise the audience. A Long, Long Time (Episode 3) is a melodrama about a paranoid survivalist who finds the love of his life in his backyard – a passing artist falls into his trap. These quiet scenes of family life, played on Linda Ronstadt’s country ballad “Long Long Time”, were not in the original game and do nothing to advance the main plot (in the series finale, Joel and Ellie are just find a car). The third episode is one of the main successes of the series.
“Left Behind” (episode seven) is another sentimental flashback about how Ellie fell in love with her best friend Riley. This short film about a tender and tragic first date among the arcade machines of an abandoned mall reveals Ellie’s character more deeply than in the game. The eighth episode “When We’re In Need” was a sectarian thriller about a community of cannibals into whose hands the main character falls. At the same time, the season’s crumpled (only 43 minutes!) and brutal finale comes out of the blue, forcing viewers to check if they’ve inadvertently missed an episode. Too quickly, Ellie and Joel travel from Boston to Salt Lake City, where the hardships of their journey are suddenly worthless.
However, this is not a finished story, the series ends with a cliffhanger – there are still at least two seasons ahead of us, in which, as the creators promise, there will be more fungal monsters. And indeed, if there is something missing from this post-apocalyptic story of mourning, the search for the meaning of life, love during the plague, humanity, revenge and cruelty, it is the good old zombies .