“Breaking Bad” is the greatest show in the history of television, and is arguably mankind’s greatest achievement. No form of visual media has been able to completely change a character from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” so seamlessly. The characters, memorable scenes, brilliant writing, unique camera work, and powerhouse lead performance from Bryan Cranston made the television series the iconic masterpiece we know and love today. After hearing the news that a movie based on the series would be made starring Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, fans’ minds were more than blown. However, the main concern about “El Camino” among many fans was the same: “will it damage the reputation of the original series?”
Thankfully, the answer to that question was a resounding “no.” Writer/director Vince Gilligan was successful in crafting a narrative which respected the legacy of “Breaking Bad,” but that’s only because he made a safe, predictable film which lacked any of the shocking, satisfying twists that “Breaking Bad” had.
“El Camino” was one of my most anticipated movies of 2019, so when I finished watching it after it first dropped on Netflix, I was extremely disappointed and underwhelmed. However, upon rewatch two years later, I enjoyed the film. “El Camino” is a really good movie on its own, but as a continuation of the Jesse Pinkman’s story post-Breaking Bad, it provided no conclusion that was worthy of a 2-hour runtime. I still wish Gilligan left the ending of the show alone and let us theorize about what happened to Jesse rather than make a movie which gave the easiest answers to questions that didn’t need answering in the first place.
But what do I mean by this? The premise of Jesse rushing to gather the money needed for the Disappearer was the most predictable storyline Gilligan could have possibly chosen from. We waited six years for that.
The trailer for this film reflected exactly what I wanted it to be: a somber character-drama about Jesse readjusting to life outside of the cage while having to evade the police. The first 20 minutes of the film were exactly that, with gut-wrenching moments like Jesse being scared of a shower after being hosed down by Todd at the compound for six months. I also loved his final goodbye to Skinny Pete, who was played brilliantly by Charles Baker. After those first 20 minutes, the movie didn’t necessarily decline in quality, but the story drifted away from the focused character-drama to a fetch-quest of sorts.
Possibly the best aspect of “El Camino” was its visuals. The cinematography, colors, and classic Breaking Bad-style shots made for a gorgeous film that made use of the Albuquerque landscape even better than the original series did. The acting was great as well, especially from Aaron Paul and Jesse Plemons. Paul was gripping as Jesse and proved the character could have his own story without needing Walter White (although Walter White is one of the greatest characters in all of fiction). He sold the psychological trauma of Jesse’s captivity and his overpowering need to finally be free. As for Plemons, he was just as good as Todd as he was back in seasons 5A & 5B of “Breaking Bad.” Todd’s calm, kind demeanor combined with his sadistic tendencies were continued here and utilized perfectly to create tension between his scenes with Jesse.
Something that’s both a positive and negative aspect of this film is the use of flashbacks. While the flashbacks with Jesse and Todd were compelling and relevant to the story, the others were all there just for fan service. The opening scene with Mike was enjoyable, but served no real purpose other than to mention Alaska, which was already brought up in “Breaking Bad” anyway. The scene toward the end with Walter White was fantastic and it was deeply emotional to see Walt & Jesse together again, but it ultimately served no purpose to the story. The final scene with Jane was interesting, but it ultimately had nothing to do with the story (Jesse never even mentioned Jane outside of the earlier flashback with Walter White).
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is the result of a brilliant writer coming back to an old project he already perfected to try to perfect it again, but his efforts are ultimately pointless. While the film has beautiful cinematography, great acting, tense scenes, witty dialogue, and emotional moments, it was unfortunately a pointless movie nonetheless.