Art does not need to justify its existence. If a creator wants to tell a story, they should do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sequel, prequel, or reboot of a previously existing work.
“We’re done, when I say we’re done.”
So, when I see critics lead their reviews of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie with statements like “[Breaking Bad] didn’t need any more chapters,” I scratch my head. It’s such a superfluous statement. One that’s become a kind of cliche in film criticism over that past few years.
Critics use statements like “Nobody asked for this,” as a crutch for mediocre “top lists” and consequently, create content that’s just as lazy as the media they’re critiquing.
So, if Vince Gilligan still thinks there’s more story to tell in Jesse Pinkman’s world, then you’re goddamn right he should ignore the critics and make what he wants. Even when he’s one of them.
Back to the ABQ
Of course, just because he (or anyone) makes what he wants to, doesn’t mean it’s going to be great or even good. Sequels are finicky. It’s difficult to tow the line between keeping in line with the story that’s come before and adding enough new elements to keep the story fresh.
This is especially true with a series like Breaking Bad, with its genuinely satisfying conclusion.
I still remember the experience of watching the series unfold and build to that climactic Felina.
I had purchased the first two seasons on blu-ray as part of a sale and I blew through them in a matter of days.
(Thinking about this really makes me wish I could be a senior in high school again).
After the last episode of season two ended, I immediately binged seasons three and four on Netflix. At the time, the first half of season five had just finished and wasn’t streaming anywhere. So, in a moment of desperation, I bought the episodes on iTunes.
But then I finished those episodes and that was it. After Hank found Gale’s inscription in Walt’s copy of Leaves of Grass, I had to wait seven months for the second half of season five to premiere.
(For a second-semester senior at an all male high school, with no real responsibilities, this was a particularly agonizing time).
But finally, the day came and I religiously tuned in to every episode as it premiered on AMC. This roughly translates to “I mooched TV time off of my college friends because I didn’t bring a TV.”
And as I sat watching Bryan Cranston walk through a meth lab for the final time on that fateful night in September of 2013, I felt like an empty part of me was filled in. I’d been looking forward to the finale for so long and it had exceeded even the loftiest of my expectations.
“You will be made whole.”
However, as satisfying as it may have been, it did leave a lot of doors open. The conclusion to Jesse’s arc in particular left a lot of questions unanswered.
Where does he go? Will he ever speak to his parents again? Does he get a final moment with Brock? How does he move on after all he’s been through? Can he?
Quite frankly, these are pretty insignificant questions. They refer only to the most minute details of Jesse’s character. So, while they may not have kept me up at night, I gladly welcomed Gilligan’s attempt to answer them.
I’m happy to report that El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is well-made, finely acted, suspenseful, and hopeful end for Jesse Pinkman.
Out of the Frying Pan & Into the Fryer
In true Breaking Bad fashion, Jesse is thrown from one trying experience to the next. And just when it looks like it’s getting better, it gets worse.
In addition to evading the police and other criminals, he’s constantly reminded of the torture he endured at hands of the white supremacist gang as well as the consequences of his past.
It’s this constant struggle that signifies Jesse’s ascent from a man who merely wants to survive, to a man who wants to live.
The events of El Camino are his final test. Nothing is given in the world of Breaking Bad and Jesse’s refusal to quit (even after everything he’s been through) is a rare, but welcomed ray of hope that the series rarely indulged in.
Unfortunately, it isn’t perfect. But then again, I didn’t expect it to be.
The main antagonist is quite weak. After villains like Tuco, Gus, Jack, and Todd, any villain used for this film was set-up for failure. However, he’s particularly uninteresting and unthreatening – notwithstanding comparison.
Moreover, there are some glaring continuity issues. Jesse Plemons (Todd) had to put on weight for his role in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and he wasn’t able to shed it for his role in this film.
It’s rather innocuous in the grand scheme of things, but I found that it bothered me more than it didn’t. And with all the de-aging CGI work being done (i.e. Captain Marvel and IT Chapter Two) I’m surprised similar techniques weren’t utilized here.
These are minor gripes, thankfully, and do not take away from the experience as a whole.
For the most part, El Camino feels like it could’ve come out right after the series finale. The creators behind this film didn’t miss a beat. And while I can’t recommend it as a stand alone film, I can assure that Breaking Bad fans will feel like they never left Vince Gilligan’s twisted, meth-infused world.