Ever since the completion of Breaking Bad, there’s been a persistent rumor that a follow-up movie was in the works. I’m a purist, I don’t see the need to return to a well once it has been perfectly tapped. After a nearly perfect run of five seasons, how could a movie ever hope to improve upon what I consider to be one of the best endings to a show ever?
I’m also a human, and humans are wrong from time to time. I was wrong to doubt Vince Gillian and Aaron Paul’s ability to give us more of what we loved about Breaking Bad without overstaying its welcome or ruining the finale.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Director: Vince Gilligan
Release Date: October 11, 2019 (Netflix)
Before the movie, there is an optional recap of the series. Do yourself a favor and watch it, no matter how big of a fan you are it’s good to get reacquainted with the crew and locales. It’s not long and you will thank yourself later. With that said, spoilers for the Breaking Bad TV series are going to fly in this review like the fly in the famous bottle episode by Rian Johnson.
At the opening of the movie, we’re thrown to an unseen conversation between Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) near the site of the latter’s death. The two criminals talk about escaping and the possibility of redemption. Ever the younger one in the conversation, Pinkman has grandiose ideas that are brought back down to earth by the seasoned cleaner. As soon as we’ve gotten used to seeing Mike back, he’s gone and we’re following along with Jesse in the seconds after he has broken free of the white supremacist compound where he was being held.
It’s this general flow where Jesse is shown in the “present” day with long looks back at conversations and encounters previously unseen that is El Camino’s bread and butter. It straddles the line of nostalgia and new so well by adhering to one simple rule, never show something you haven’t seen before. Because of this, even if it’s a follow-up it still feels fresh while being reverential to the original source.
If there were any doubt that the story of Breaking Bad was a western then that doubt is thrown out the window with this tale of Pinkman’s escape from town with only his wits and social connections. That not enough for you? How about a literal shoot-out? I like that El Camino follows the archetype of the western in that it works really well in the two-hour runtime so that the pace never really feels like it’s lagging. We’re thrown into the mess right from the start and the pace never lags.
All of the actors fall perfectly back into the roles they haven’t been in for years. The biggest credit has to go to Aaron Paul who is quite obviously the star of the movie but is also tasked with portraying Jesse at different parts of his growth from low-level meth dealer to imprisoned slave. Secondary praise would have to go to now the late Robert Forster who reprises his role as the cleaner who helps get criminals out of town. There’s a nuance to his portrayal where you know he wants to help but is also bound to his own personal code. I suppose props are in order for Jesse Plemons who returns as Todd. I say suppose because he does a great job of making me hate his character all over again.
There is one small downside to the fact that this is a follow-up though, although it’s barely a complaint. El Camino wouldn’t be able to stand on its own without the series before it. As this is a follow-up there isn’t much need for character development, and none is really given. I rather commend Gilligan for committing to it though as other directors might be tempted to try and draw in new viewers but this is strictly for fans and that’s a good thing.
As it is made for fans, all the old familiars are here in spades. The odd camera work, the time-lapse shots of Albuquerque, the dark humor. It’s all here. I was surprised to see that series regular cinematographer Michael Slovis was not brought back as the shots and color palette feel like they are ripped directly from the show. But it appears that Marshall Adams, the director of photography pulled upon his vast experience shooting the prequel series Better Call Saul.
While it is made for fans, it’s done with respect. I don’t have the same dirty feeling in my mouth after the LOST epilogue The New Man in Charge where it felt like the team wanted nothing to do with the follow-up and was only doing it to appease noisy fans. El Camino neatly ties a loose end that rightfully could be argued doesn’t need to be tied at all, but it’s done well and serves as what I hope is truly the end of the line for Breaking Bad sequels. We don’t need the memory of its greatness sullied like it were The Walking Dead.