By Bradley Lane
Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is one of the most critically acclaimed television shows of all time. It is frequently mentioned as one of the greatest TV shows not only because of its high mark of quality throughout the series, but the way the series came to an end. Critics praised the show’s conclusion for bringing each character a satisfying, yet surprising end point. The series finale boasts a 9.9/10 user score on IMDb with over 77,000 reviews. Considering this, adding more to that story seems like a big risk. Despite this, Vince Gilligan and his team moved forward, in secret, with production of a feature-length Breaking Bad movie. Unveiled a mere two months ago, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is here and available for free with a Netflix subscription.
Vince Gilligan, show creator, writer and occasional director, returned to write and direct the story’s epilogue. Picking up directly where the series ended, it does reward fans of the series with great return character moments but is still comprehensible if you haven’t seen the whole series. What results is a tense, entertaining and emotional journey with Jesse Pinkman that, despite its entertainment value, fails to meet the impossibly high bar that the original series set for it.
El Camino, in some ways, plays like a greatest hits reel of the show’s best moments. Tense character driven confrontations, thoughtful and heartfelt writing and the show’s signature exaggeration of the mundane given new context in the dire, seemingly impossible circumstances faced by our protagonist. However, the decision to center Jesse as a protagonist creates a decidedly different tone from the original series. Where dread and fear lurked in Walter White’s exploits, Jesee’s story is all about hope, perseverance and redemption. These subtle moments are communicated in vivid detail through Gilligan’s trademark excellent writing.
Unfortunately, one of the strengths of the original series was establishing long-running and growingly consequential stakes all stack on top of one another until they all come crashing down. The entire second season is a build-up to a single event. Being a movie constrained into a two-hour runtime, El Camino does not have that luxury, and as a result feels less consequential and ultimately more forgettable than the original series.
Of course, El Camino didn’t live up to Breaking Bad’s finale, but hopefully no one really expected that. It delivers a fun, emotional and tight self-contained story that pays tribute to Breaking Bad but feels stuck in its shadow. -3.5/5 Stars