The Last of Us review: A post-apocalyptic drama that can’t decide if it’s an adaptation or a replay

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The Last of Us review: A post-apocalyptic drama that can’t decide if it’s an adaptation or a replay

The biggest TV shows do awful things to Pedro Pascal's face. Game of Thrones squeezed his skull to pieces. The Mandalorian helmeted him in dad's nostalgia. A high-fatality horror series sounds even nastier, so it's a nice surprise how much The Last of Us depends on the actor's kind, un-gouged, visible eyes. He stars as Joel, a violent smuggler chaperoning sassy Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a ruined America. Their undead odyssey is overly familiar and can play like a video game with just the talking parts. Pascal brings a lightness to gory trauma, aging himself with unkempt gray fuzz, mumbling an ah-reckon Texas twang. He looks like he would be really bummed about killing you.

In 2003, Joel's a regular-guy contractor and a single dad. A fungal infection rapidly spreads through humanity, turning victims into mad chomping killers. These cordyceps creatures are essentially, though not technically, zombies. Civilization collapses, so J.K. Rowling never finishes Harry Potter but also never tweets. 20 years later, Joel's living grim in Boston, one of several quarantine zones run by a residual U.S. authority called FEDRA. Beyond the walls linger monsters who used to be people and people who are the real monsters.

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Joel and his partner Tess (Anna Torv, always welcome) receive a bodyguard assignment from the Fireflies, a rebel group. Young Ellie is a typical doomsday adolescent masking loss behind perpetual middle-finger snarl. She's also a genetic miracle. A cordyceps bite usually turns a person into an invulnerable beast defeated only by brain trauma: Zombie stuff. Somehow, Ellie survived an attack. Her DNA could save the world, if Firefly scientists out West can analyze her immune system. It's a whole continent of danger from here to there, plus a personality problem. Joel don't talk much. Ellie won't stop bantering. Can a gruff badass get along with a precocious kid?

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