THE OSCAR PROJECT
The Creator is the fourth feature film from Gareth Edwards, who thus far hasn't proven himself worthy of being mentioned in the same vein as his peers in Denis Villenueve, Alex Garland, Neil Blomkamp, and even Duncan Jones. Though every entry in his filmography has been met with generally positive reviews, I feel his technical proficiency and potential are shadowed by his lack of individuality. His previous films were plagued by blatant homage and trite storylines and sadly, The Creator is no different.
This movie has merits, of course. As is usual with Edwards' filmography, the cinematography is rich with pastel colours that fall on the eyes as easily as an autumn leaf on October grounds. The shot choices are always appropriate and determine the film's emotion, whether it be intimately scaled for deeper emotional moments or large-scale for elephantine battles that hold the energy you'd expect from a sci-fi blockbuster. However, the problems lie entirely in the storytelling department. The film is attempting a Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049-type story with its take on A.I. and their worth in society, how we value their consciousness, and ultimately what makes emotions real. It's inherently thought-provoking material, and given the right context and director, such as Blade Runner with Ridley Scott or Blade Runner 2049 with Villenueve, it can be an all-time classic.
However, this film has no intention of taking those derived ideas and remixing them to produce refreshing results—quite the opposite, in fact. It takes so much from films like Blade Runner, Aliens, Star Wars, Terminator, and Avatar and refuses to do anything but rehash plot elements, designs, and concepts to the point where there is not a single moment in this experience where you will be caught off guard. You know what is around every single corner at every minute because you have seen it a million times before and quite frankly, a million times better. To say this film was a walking cliche would be an insult to the cliches it's built upon. But not only does this film take so much from much better movies, it's done so blatantly that you're constantly reminded that you could be watching a better movie instead.
We have a basic military force led by Allison Janney doing her best Quaritch impression with Colonel Howell, which intensely reminds you of Avatar. But while James Cameron used very simple themes and concepts to build a Shakespearean epic of high drama and high stakes, The Creator uses all these same elements without understanding what makes them so powerful to begin with. Edwards waves his influences around like a toddler who's found his father's gun, with no respect for what he wields and no understanding of what its potential could be.
There are even moments that are so very close to good, edging towards emotionally powerful exchanges, but are undercut by the editing's unwavering need to be epic. Somber moments are always interrupted by booming music that jars the tone of the scripted material and performances. Deaths come and go with zero weight behind them because the characters feel like video game side quest companions; they have no discernible character traits beyond storyboarded shallow motivations. This isn't even remedied by our two protagonists, Joshua (John David Washington) and Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who are on the typical ‘father figure ushers saviour child through dangerous settings and situations' mission. Though both actors are giving the material their best, the writing is just so uneventful and juiceless that their bond is nowhere near properly built in the entire two hours this film runs for. What's most crazy is that there is a clear story opportunity to give Joshua the perfect motivation for bonding with Alphie that isn't touched on until the final moments, when it's no longer effective.
So, the story is inoffensive but entirely unoriginal; I'd go as far as to say it's harshly predictable. The characters' motivations don't exist, and their personalities are even less observable. The antagonistic force shows up wherever the plot requires it to; there is no logical explanation for half of their appearances. The idea of 'New Asia' has been met with some fair criticism as it deals with the idea of a blended continent, essentially reducing most Asian cultures as interchangeable, which is wildly insensitive. There are some minor graces of competency, like the effects, which are all very solid and quite clearly where the budget went. There is also a brilliant line that explains that if the A.I. side of the war wins, nothing happens because they don't want to dominate; they just want to integrate and promote peace. It's a gorgeous theme that I wish was explored with more than just a single line, and overall, the film is so derivative that watching this over any of its influences, which clearly have Edwards in a chokehold, would be a grave misstep on behalf of the audience.
It's a fine film that passes the bare minimum requirements for a sci-fi story, and for that, I'm going to give The Creator a...
5 out of 10
Episode 9 of The Last of Us serves as the final episode in the season and as usual, it has its ups and downs. The fact that this episode is the shortest in the season is disappointing as a two hour finale would have been a wonderful way to end a great season. They get in and out of this episode so quickly and the show suffers for it. Every episode this season has been dedicated to an individual story, exploring the themes and emotions of every person and situation the protagonists come across. Every detail has been painstakingly laboured over to create mini arcs for the characters that tether pieces together in the overarching storyline. However, in episode 9, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) find themselves in a dire situation once again and it is up to Joel to make some very important decisions for himself and Ellie.
This moral dilemma should have been the backbone for a larger episode. The two sides of this moral debate should have been given more time to have discourse, to elaborate on their sides, or at least give the audience additional time to assess their own thoughts and feelings. The pace here matches the source material but this show has been fantastic at deciding when to speed up and when to slow down and it seems like they made the incorrect choice here. It feels like they ran out of budget and had to wrap things up very quickly, which is a shame. It ends on a brutal note yet the effects of this conclusion aren't truly felt to full effect because we're left to surmise Ellie's thoughts on the matter. After the high intensity of the last episode where some very shocking events take place, we're left little time to let it all sink in. It's lightly shown that Ellie hasn't quite recovered from those events but they could have used this recovery time to process some of her emotions that would have served as a catalyst for the moral conundrum later on.
Despite all of this, what the show does provide is breathtaking. Ramsey has never not felt like the original version of Ellie but this is where she feels the most like Ellie. In the decrescendo, we get a moment to breathe after all of the chaos and just live in a moment with her and Joel. The beautiful but understated line delivery Ramsey pulls off more than proves that she was perfectly cast from the beginning. The same can be said for Pascal as he magically brings a real sense of depth, desperation, and urgency to his character. The intense action scenes flowing perfectly into the slower and more philosophical scenes are vastly aided by Pascal in the way that he can shift his energy so fluidly. But these things are what make the time length and the pace problems feel so egregious. Why would we not want to use these brilliant actors more and wrap up the season in the way it deserved to.
This episode also adroitly sells us on the idea that Joel is at best an anti-hero. There is a misconception that has been rife since the video game released that Joel is a good guy, a hero, an idol. This is conceptually bonkers since he has been ridiculed for his decisions and scrutinized for his brutality from the very beginning of the apocalypse portion of the story. The show did a much better job at displaying this than the source material. Earlier in the show we saw hints towards his past, implying he harmed innocent people, his brother Tommy explicitly repenting for his time with Joel. It finally accumulates in this episode as we see Joel go on a rampage, admittedly to save his surrogate daughter.
This may be the moral choice, however, if we examine this sequence and turn of events from any single character's perspective, Joel is a villain. He takes life when he deems it okay, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. He robs Ellie of a possibly world changing decision over his own regrets and point of view. He is a morally questionable character, but this is one of the things that makes him so interesting. I hope this thread is further explored in the second season as it's a huge theme in The Last of Us 2, which was quite controversial at the time of its release.
Despite all the flaws, this episode brings home everything that is great about this show. Brilliant and intense action, difficult decisions, heartbreaking unethical choices, outstanding performances, gorgeous and rich dialogue that progress two intensely complicated characters and most of all, a sense of consistent dread mix in equal parts with hope. So though this season ended with an accelerated landing and rough decline, I felt adequately satisfied with the overall conclusion. I'm going to give the finale of The Last of Us season 1 an...
8 out of 10
Episode 8 of The Last of Us is the penultimate episode of the first season but it doesn't feel like it at all. Usually, the second to last entry in a series is bogged down by setup with the audience waiting impatiently for the finale. However, this episode doesn't seem concerned with that at all. There was no tease as to where things go from here. It felt like just another episode of the show which is its greatest strength. When a show uses the penultimate episode to set up the finale, it feels like that episode loses its voice and it becomes a slog for the audience to get through as the writers position the characters for the final moments. We avoid that issue here because this is treated as a solo adventure within a story with no end in sight, making the finale hit sensationally hard, feeling as if it comes out of nowhere.
As a fan of the source material, I've been anticipating this section of the story. It has always been my favourite section because this is where we finally see Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in her truest form. She becomes vulnerable and desperate, but most importantly, a survivalist. No matter her situation and how much it worsens, she navigates it with confidence, even if it's counterfeit. She doesn't rely on Joel to get her out of trouble, assessing her surroundings and calculating her next move. This doesn't always work out and she fumbles because this is the first time she's had to be concerned with somebody beside herself. Lack of complete focus is where many of her weak moments lie. However, the events of this episode, stumbles and all, show promise for Ellie's survival in the broader story. We see the seeds of intellect that burrow into her every plan and Ramsey perfectly hits every beat. It's a performance that is not yet concluded but conclusively brilliant.
We also get more Joel (Pedro Pascal) in this episode. Pascal understands this character so well that it's often hard to distinguish what's written for him and what he improvises. With a show as high budget as this, I doubt much of it is improvised but that's how great Pascal is. He sets in motion this constant doubt that his lines are written because they feel so natural for him to say. He has brilliant one liners and acts with the energy of a bear trying to find its cubs by any means necessary. The flaw here is that Ellie's story is just more compelling and interesting, so every time we follow Joel it feels like just biding time to get back to Ellie. The stakes are much lower in Joel's story that the only thing keeping it even slightly interesting is Pascal's performance.
This episode encapsulates everything beautiful and dark about this show and in doing so it feels like a finale in itself. There's a real antagonist and the show attempts to endear him towards the audience and only succeeds halfway. Once he's revealed to be the villain, we sink deeper into his psyche to the most uncomfortable places. I'm surprised the show attempted going to these lengths because some of the subject matter is sensitive and if handled incorrectly, could be a severe miscalculation. However, they play everything very well and give this terrifying and vile villain the fitting end he deserved.
It's been exhausting to talk about this show every week because every week I deliver the same praise. The writing is fantastic, the performances are natural and emotionally complicated, the direction is sincere, and at times so intense it makes you choke. Everything is so illustrious that a review of every episode may feel redundant, but I continue to write them because the show is remarkable and it's so huge that not having a voice in the discussion seems even more redundant. I enjoy every single episode so the anticipation for the finale is much higher than a typical show. Expectations are unruly and that may be unfair, but the show has demonstrated that it's capable of literal perfection. This episode may not be that but it is exhilarating reminding me why I write these reviews each week. Though the praise may be similar every time, there is always something unique to that episode and in this episode it was David. Incredible performance and I may never trust Scott Shepherd again.
So to bring us to a close, I'm going to give this episode of The Last of Us a...
8 out of 10
When I heard of Ray Liotta's passing in May 2022, I was crushed. Liotta was an actor that brought unbelievable performances throughout a career that was littered with some bad decisions. He was always brilliant despite the mediocrity of a lot of the films he was brilliant in. A lot of actors are in great films, but few actors make films great. That's what Ray Liotta did consistently. So when I heard this legend of cinema had passed away and that his final acting credit would be in a film called Cocaine Bear, I was beyond enlivened.
This film is more than a film, it's an experience, but not the way classics like Jurassic Park are. It isn't painstakingly laboured over to craft some of the most impressive visual effects in history and isn't the magnum opus of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It is however a film that is like no other. This movie is exactly what it says on the tin, 50% cocaine, 50% bear, and 100% insane.
From the start the film delivers high energy as it sets up the plot. The opening sequence is manic, loud, brutal and most importantly, darkly humorous. This energy never lets up the entire runtime and confirms every suspicion you may have going into it. It’s an incredibly self aware product and though director Elizabeth Banks doesn't have the most superlative directorial filmography, she proves herself more than capable of delivering an experience as a director just as fun and exciting as her own performances as an actress.
However, the greatest strength of this film is also its greatest weakness. The characters are fodder which is great since it’s supposed to deliver absolute carnage and the most absurd fun attainable. But the film also tries to make us care for certain characters more than others. They have some unique personalities and ways of being, but they're not developed well enough to truly care whether they live or die. They seem written to live without consequence so as to be available to die if necessary for the plot. This is part of the fun since any character can go at any point and there isn't a single person who feels off limits.
This is of course also a problem since an integral part of any survival film is wanting at least one of the characters to survive. If the film was portraying itself as a slaughterhouse and cared very little for the characters being pushed through it, all this would be forgiven but because it tries to drive emotional attachment to certain storylines and characters, it hinders the film overall.
Though the characters aren't always the best written, the acting is solid across the board. O'Shea Jackson Jr. is a stand out who finds the tough balance between tough guy, straight man, and occasional comic relief. He services all archetypes whilst blending them into one synergized personality. Liotta brings depth to his character, Syd, which isn't there in the script, but he creates a real menace that makes us actively root against him from both the bear and human perspective.
There are some great comedic performances from people we expect, but Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery both deliver great comedic roles despite being considerably younger than the rest of the cast. They never feel out of their depth when acting against veterans like Keri Russell which bodes well for their career.
When the film isn't focusing on the characters, it's trying to be funny. The jokes land most of the time and though much of the humour is based on the same rough foundations (a bear liking cocaine, drug induced bear tears limbs of a person, and kid swears or says something inappropriate) they're foundations strong enough to make these jokes last the entire runtime. Because the concept is so ridiculous and outrageously demented, it would take far more than a 2-hour runtime before it became normalized and boring.
In the end, it's difficult to imagine this film actually existing. A movie like this seems straight out of the 80s or 90s where any and all films would get a greenlight. today’s film landscape where less and less risks are being taken in the mainstream, especially in the comedy genre. So despite what you may think of the film overall in its quality, I think we're pretty lucky to get something that isn't afraid to be ridiculous and out there in a time where so many studio comedies are playing it incredibly safe in concept and casting. So for all I needed it to be and for all that it is, I'm going to give Cocaine Bear a...
7 out of 10
Creed III is the 9th film in the Rocky/Creed franchise and with Michael B. Jordan stepping up to make his directorial debut, he faces the impossible task of keeping up the standards of this well established and adored franchise.
It has been five years since Creed II and you can tell some time has passed by how meticulously crafted every element is. Jordan’s directing is smooth and polished. Every frame looks unwrinkled and this is especially impressive as he follows Sylvester Stallone's challenge of starring in the movie as well, as the titular Adonis Creed. He pulls some impressive moves when crafting this film and considering he's directing the ninth installment, adding new elements to the tired format of this series is a feat in itself. He brings more slow motion into the fights which isn’t necessarily new but the way he utilizes it to emphasize Adonis's thought patterns are especially genius. It's an incredibly fun and clever way to shoot the fights whilst keeping the camera involved in the action.
Jordan also creates a feast for the eyes in the final fight, visually independent from anything we've seen from this series before so it's safe to say that he brings his own unique flavour to a franchise nearly 5 decades in. He does fall short however in some aspects, particularly the montages which this franchise is very much famous for. There's a small sequence of Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) in his home that should be a quickfire montage scene to rile up the main antagonistic force but it more-so comes across as a cheaply made music video edit. The final montages feel sloppily put together as if Jordan studied the previous great training montages and tried to replicate them without knowing what really made them special. He forgot to add his own flare to these moments and the film suffers for it.
The film tries to relate to Rocky 3 whilst keeping its originality. Like Rocky in Rocky 3, Adonis has become a domesticated fighter which Mickey explained as the worst fate for a fighter. Both Rocky and Adonis have to overcome that fate to win their fights. But in being domesticated, Adonis has become a father. This is a theme that gets touched on slightly but isn't as explored as much as it should be. The film relies heavily on ASL in this storyline which could be a risk, forcing the audience to understand large parts of the film through subtitles. This is treated as normal, which adds a nice layer to the film. The film never fully realizes the fatherhood aspect. Adonis is never forced to strain and the film attempts to show a glimpse of what that could look like but never commits to building that struggle.
The soundtrack is great and the vibe of the entire film is unique to this installment. Dr. Dre’s 'The Watcher' plays over the beginning flashback and a soundtrack exclusive remix reprises the ending. It's a good way to show the time gap and also how different Adonis has become in that time. You’ll also hear some older Rocky themes but altered slightly which serves as a subtle metaphor for the franchise.
The final resolution is well written but definitely not needed. There is an attempted commentary on legacy which was already covered in Creed and Creed II, reducing that theme to filler. This will likely not be the final installment in this franchise but it should be. It's a strong ending with some unique qualities, but the formula for the franchise is getting repetitive and I don't know how much longer it can last. With that said, I had a brilliant time with Creed III and would definitely recommend it to any fan of the series. For now, I'm going to give Creed III a...
7 out of 10
Episode 7 of The Last of Us is here and as expected, it was just as entertaining as the previous episodes. We dive into Ellie (Bella Ramsey) heavily this time, taking a huge detour from the main narrative to give some back story only hinted at previously.
Ellie and Riley (Storm Reid) are together in a flashback telling how Ellie got bitten initially. The relationship they build between these characters in such a short runtime is impressive, though they did this before in episode 3. The difficulty in this relationship is to not build it all the way. Bill and Frank's episode was able to fully bloom and their arc was fully realized which can be easier than writing an incomplete love story. The challenge is knowing where to take it and not go too far. It must end in a tragically awkward place which can be difficult to find and upsetting if not found exactly.
Riley is the perfect antithesis to Ellie. They play off each other's ideals and we see how both of them are falling into the propaganda cycle of their respective sides of the same conflict. It's interesting to understand how they can oppose each other in an idealistic way yet come together on the basis of their friendship. Their relationship is built very naturally, though there are moments and lines of exposition that feel shoved in to save time. Riley's character brings an edge to Ellie that we can see retrospectively affects her. Not only do we see Ellie's episodic arc here but we see how the events of this story directly affect Ellie overall. Within the present day action we see that Ellie hates FEDRA. She actively dislikes where she lives and doesn't want to enact change, nor does she seem as vulnerable. It's clear that these events shaped her into the person she becomes but they are also the building blocks of her insecurities. It leads to her fear of abandonment, a huge theme of the show. It's even more poignant as Joel (Pedro Pascal) is bleeding out and Ellie is faced with losing another loved one. Leaving this out of the story until now is genius since it demonstrates that while Ellie couldn’t help Riley, she can help Joel. Her character grows without a lot of action, lights or sound, just stellar writing and brilliant acting.
The criticisms for Ramsey have become completely hollow. She perfectly portrays Ellie in this episode in every facet of the human condition tapping into every emotion one would feel in this difficult time; joy, fear, anger, sadness, regret, guilt, elation and anxiety. She handles each with the precision of a seasoned actor like Pascal himself.
Speaking of which, Joel isn't in much of this episode. It is clearly the Ellie episode. The story comes from extra content away from the original source material and it was a bold move to do so. To utilize something not in the original story was brave, but since they have taken many liberties with the story, they have a lot of leeway in terms of creative license. It more than pays off though and considering it almost entirely excludes Joel, a fan favourite, it was a risk I'm surprised they were willing to take.
However, telling this story comes with a particular problem, not enough stakes. We are aware of two things about this story. We know Ellie gets bitten but survives and the show implies there was a second person with her at the time. Since Ellie doesn't speak about this individual, we're led to assume she died. There are no stakes because we know the ending as soon as the story begins. This is different from the rest of the show since knowledge of the source material isn’t required and without that knowledge, you can only guess at the conclusions.
When it comes to this backstory, you can deduce exactly where it's going from moment one which is a huge issue because this show is all about stakes. It's about difficult decisions and attempts to make us see how morality works in the apocalypse, how ethics are bent and how that reflects on our current society. There are layers of how we navigate relationships too but the point is, there are no difficult decisions to be made here. We can't toy with what we would do because we know what the characters are going to do. The story still has value in developing Ellie’s character, but the concept of this episode is fundamentally flawed in the context of the show.
Despite this my criticisms don't extend much further than that. This episode was a step down, but a step down from near perfection still lands you in a decent position. So I'm going to give The Last of Us episode 7 a...
7 out of 10
Episode 6 of The Last of Us continues the journey of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they attempt to find Joel's brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). The episode is set three months after the last which works great for the narrative. I appreciate when a show cuts unnecessary fat with time jumps. The characters need to get to a place but the journey there isn't exactly thrilling or full of character development and the writers shouldn't feel the need to fill in those blanks. Sometimes the destination truly is more important than the journey.
After the time jump we find our protagonists well on their way to finding Tommy. What I love so much about this is how much of the source material they cut. In a video game it isn't weird to spend hours exploring the world which works well in that format. However, too much of this in a screen adaptation can actively harm your version of the story. This show rarely has that problem and nowhere in this series is it more evident than here.
They cut large portions of the source material that originally took hours to get through into short 10 minute segments. It's extremely effective and shows the power of the narrative because everything that gets highlighted moves a character forward, whether it be literal movement or part of their story arc.
In a previous review I mentioned that this show is hellbent on making the audience cry. Every episode feels like a ploy to poke at the audience's emotional sensibilities like a 2010s Pixar movie. While still true, the show has never forced the emotional moments. This episode actually avoids this trend. There is a true emotional heartbeat throughout this episode that largely has to do with Joel and the fear he must overcome when filling the role of Ellie's protector. Through the loss of his daughter, Joel is naturally quite guarded and only shows small bits of emotion but the writers allow him to let go in this episode. He bears his soul in a way we haven't seen him do before. He has bottled his emotions for over two decades and the only thing that has drawn them to blow the cap off is Ellie. Ellie's parallel to Sarah grows more apparent as time moves forward and it's to the point where Joel himself can't separate his duties to them both, both in memory and present.
This links to something integral. Though this episode does little to progress their arcs, it ties up several loose ends in the story which have been hanging in the balance for a few episodes, even from the first episode. Not only does Joel finally come into contact with his brother but Ellie discovers that Joel had a daughter and that she passed. This bit of knowledge has been preventing Joel from letting go of the stand-offish persona he keeps around Ellie.
This is told very well through Joel experiencing moments of fear induced paralysis that the audience is initially left to wonder why. We're later told that Joel, feeling his age, worries that he will let Ellie down, or worse, put her in harm's way. He's in a position where he does not want to lose another child and yet what's most interesting about this is that Ellie does not feel safe around anybody else but Joel. Ellie has absolute faith in him as a guardian, a father figure, and a friend. But it isn't until Joel is able to see this that the characters can branch and move forward. It’s not exactly character building, but rather clearing new ground so we can continue to build elsewhere. It's beautiful and written so flawlessly by the writers.
Ramsey’s performance continues to impress and despite the love for Pascal, I think she is the best part of the cast. Pascal brings a lot of the emotional depth, not surprising as he is a seasoned actor, but Ramsey brings the echoes of emotion for Pascal to play against and bring it home which can be a vastly more difficult task. I do not understand the hate targeted towards her casting and this may be a case of an audience needing to maintain their expectations. Ramsey's interpretation of this character may vary slightly but she handles the adaptation as well as the show does overall. She may change some staples but she carries the overall spirit and soul of who Ellie is, which is more important than a one for one translation.
It astounds me the quality this show has been able to keep up this entire time. It's been a very long time since I've seen a show where every episode adds a new element, a new arc, a new adventure, and every one is on par with the last. In last episode's review I mentioned that the show seems to be going back on that uphill trajectory and I think this episode all but confirms that. So I'm going to give The Last of Us episode 6 a...
9 out of 10
The Last of Us episode 5 released and it was a step up from the last. My complaints about the last episode were about it being mostly filler and set-up for the following episodes and to my surprise, all that set-up was paid off in the very next episode. In the moment, this may seem like a good thing with multiple plotlines tied off quickly so our characters can move to the next step in their journey. However, I fear the future rewatchability, especially since so much time was spent setting up plot points for it to come to an end almost immediately after. Since all those threads tie up so nicely, I fear that the greatness of this episode actively makes the previous one worse.
That said, this episode is a step up from the last. Joel and Ellie are back front and center on their journey and this time accompanied by two new companions, Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard). These two bring a lot of depth to the story in the source material and I thought it would be difficult to capture it the same way given the emotional torment of episode 3. Henry is a complex character. Though we understand his position in the world, a sought after informant being hunted by those he betrayed, we also understand why he made the decisions he made. There's some discussion of morality here, the philosophy of whether making bad choices makes you a bad person, whether or not they were made with good intention, or even grey intention.
I wish we got to spend more time with Henry as I think his outlook on the world and the importance of his ethics hand the show a new flavour just when it's getting dull. Sam is an equally interesting case, and though mostly a vehicle to play out Henry's dilemmas and choices, he's given more to do in the show than in the source material. For one he has the added layer of being deaf, obviously a ploy from the creators to make him a more sympathetic character, but my God does it work well! Sam is inherently more endearing given the limited information we have on him. He has a history of cancer, he's deaf, he's eight years old, and was born into the end of days. There is very little you need to add to make him compelling to the audience, especially when paired with his father and the choices he had to make.
But the story does not stop there. It backs these two into a corner they could not hope to get out of and tragically puts an end to both characters in the most awful of manners. This show seems obsessed with making the audience feel heartbroken, really setting in the feeling of living in a world without hope. It's beautifully done, dare I say better than the original.
Away from Sam and Henry, Joel and Ellie are back but feel less like a duo in this episode than last. They get split up and paired with their new companions which mirror their situations. We get a lot more from Ellie than we do Joel this episode since Ellie is paired with Sam and to see how she responds with other children is very interesting. We monitor her as she plays and talks with somebody closer to her age, becoming more open and full of energy. This is something we rarely see because it feels disallowed when she’s with Joel.
In the case of Joel, we see him try to relate to Henry whilst also questioning his morals. But slowly we see Joel become more understanding of Henry's situation as he's in a similar one with Ellie. Not only that, he can conceptualize the horrors Henry has committed because of his own losses in his daughter.
So we see Ellie become a protector for Sam and we see Joel become more sympathetic and empathetic with Henry. It's incredibly smart because the characters needed this growth for the next part of their journey but they couldn't bring it out of each other in the way that Sam and Henry could. The writers really have a good grip on the arcs Joel and Ellie must undergo to get to the eventual climax and they've pinpointed every moment where those arcs can progress, even if it's slight.
A talk about this episode would not be complete without talking about the big fire fight finale. The intensity is through the roof, our main characters are in an inescapable bind and our main antagonistic force has seemingly won... but then the ground collapses and the real threat of the entire show presents itself once again. Not only does it present itself on a massive scale, it introduces a bigger version of itself; the bloater. This is something fans of the source material have been waiting for and it finally comes to us half way through the season. It was teased in the last episode and this is by far the greatest pay off this episode had to offer. It was as terrifying as it should be and the make-up/costume department outdid themselves once again. A truly thrilling and horrific way to end that storyline. The show lets you breathe for a moment afterwards before dropping the bombshell on you that Sam was bitten and his arc concludes along with Henry. A truly bitter way to end the episode and it could not have been any better.
I'm very excited for the next chapter in this series and it seems as though we are back on an uphill trajectory. I'm hoping for another 10/10 episode soon but for this episode I think we'll have to settle for an extraordinary…
8 out of 10
The Last of Us episode four is a curious case. The quality is the same as previous episodes, the writing is just as fun, and the action is just as thrilling. I enjoyed it massively, yet I'm finding myself with very little to say.
Now yes, the show is still great. My lack of words should not be taken as an indicator of a dip in quality, just a moment to note that the show may be plateauing. It would be plateauing at a very high level but plateauing nonetheless. Coming off the back of episode three, which was in essence a slow paced romance short film, I expected this episode to go crazy with action and fast paced storytelling but it doesn't. I think it is vital for the next episode to pick up some momentum to avoid making the entire show a slow burn.
The source material has a great balance of high intensity action and slow paced character work. The character work has always been the highlight and the show chooses to focus on that aspect for their story. That said, the creators must keep in mind that character only work so well in the game because of the juxtaposition. An action set piece happens, the characters escape or win, and then they take it easy and grow together from the experience. This episode contains one bit of action and it goes by without a true moment to live in it.
The character growth between Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) is truly starting to show here and their relationship is well within its budding season. Ellie’s character is tested in this episode and the decisions she makes are not only essential foundations of who she is to become, but who she doesn't want to become. Joel, though Ellie's guardian at this point, is not a good man. It is well documented and implied, even within this episode, that Joel has done many awful things to even innocent people. There are shards of a great man in him and those shards reflect his light often through his actions towards those he loves. But that cannot distract us from remembering that he is a broken person who has done a lot of damage. The second video game, which is highly controversial for this stance, tries to explain this and I think that is key to keep in mind in this episode. Joel is not only Ellie's protector, but also a warning of who she could become, the things she can be capable of if she goes down the same path as Joel. She is supposed to be better, and I think the seeds of that are starting here in the show.
Aside from the chaos and torment of their situation and the future themes and meanings of their relationship, they are finally growing quite fond of each other. Ellie tells Joel a few jokes in this episode. Cringey, ugly, Dad-like jokes. At first Joel finds them annoying but by the end he laughs at one and finds them endearing. It's a small bit that carries throughout the episode that isn't integral to the plot in any way, but it's a cute way to see how Ellie softens Joel in a way that nobody has been able to in a long time.
This episode focuses more on world building than the last, so we end up following another group of people for a while who directly opposed our main duo in a moment of conflict. This is one of the things that holds this episode back. Though I understand the need to build out this world, especially for the sake of future episodes, I don't find many of these scenes interesting or captivating. They just feel like moments that are happening whilst waiting to get back to Joel and Ellie.
At the end of the episode we get teased with two characters who will feature more prominently in the next episode. This episode feels like a lot of setting up, even to the point where the group in the B plot are setting up potential threats for both themselves and our two protagonists. There are set ups and teases within the set ups and teases which make it feel less concise in contrast to the other episodes. I assume the following episodes will pay off and most of this episode will work better within the context of an entire watch rather than a singular episode viewing. Luckily, the next episode is being pushed forward due to the Super Bowl so you don't have long to wait to get some pay off for this episode.
The Last of Us Episode three released and this is the first time in the show’s run so far that takes a huge deviation from the game. In episodes prior, there had been one extra scene not from the source material and it layered the world in a slightly more dramatic way. This episode didn't have that initial extra scene before the intro, which made me curious why but the episode itself made that clear. This entire section of the game is one of the more exciting parts and one of the more beloved due to the characters introduced and expansion of the world. This episode had a lot to live up to. It chose not to try, and it thrives because of it.
In the game we don't meet Frank (Murray Bartlett) but we do meet Bill (Nick Offerman). It is heavily implied in the game that Bill and Frank had a romantic relationship, but it isn't expanded on too much. Within this episode we meet Bill at the birth of the apocalypse, and he seems to flourish in a world without other people. He despises interaction and lives as a hermit…until he meets Frank. Frank changes Bill's perspective on people and that love can exist in the end times. He brings a richness to Bill that wasn't present before the show, yet all the traits that Bill is still overly paranoid, loves guns, is incredibly smart and likeable, yet anti-social. But mostly he's necessary for the journey Joel and Ellie are on.
While this is Joel and Ellie’s show, this isn't their episode. We get a few minutes in the beginning and end with them and despite that, they still have incredible character growth. In the beginning, Joel tells Ellie how the pandemic started because she is curious. He tells her how people assumed the virus spread and tells a few more stories of the horrors people went through, including one of government ordered executions on those whom they have no space for. It's a chilling anecdote that leads into the Bill and Frank storyline. Then that focus is done, the story picks back up with Joel and Ellie arriving at Bill and Frank's to find that they are no longer there. They get the supplies they need, have a bit of playful banter, collect the car left to them, and go on their way.
I'm pleased the showrunners decided to deviate from the source material and tell a story they felt needed to be told. Bill and Frank's relationship is full of funny and tender moments. The slow build of their connection over the episode is some of the most heartwarming television I have ever seen but the climax of their relationship is really where your heart begins to tear. Frank has some degenerative disease, perhaps ALS, and decides one day that he no longer wants to live. He feels a burden to his partner but also fulfilled in his life and knows the only way to go is down. It's a crushing realization and almost unbearable to watch happen. He informs Bill and they spend one last beautiful day together, including getting married. The writers crafted this incredibly realistic relationship in a dystopian nightmare, and it is by far the best episode of the show so far
There will be inevitable backlash from those who are against the 'woke agenda,' whatever that means. There will be hate from those who want to mask their homophobia with 'love for the source material,' but at the end of the day, it matters very little because the show benefits from this storyline in a way it wouldn't had it stuck to the original story. The Last of Us isn't about the apocalypse. It isn't even really about Joel and Ellie. It's about the relationships people can build in the most dire times and no episode so far has captured it quite like this one. I said in my last review that if this episode was better than episode two, I'd be astounded. Well count me astounded because this episode elevated above everything so far. The casting, writing, and soulful, intimate direction is all a step above and even the small action sequence is more intense than previous episodes. I could nitpick a few problems like the parallels between their outbreak and Covid being a bit heavy-handed, but I'd be kidding myself to give this anything less than a perfect score.
10 out of 10