While El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is moderately enjoyable escapism, it’s ultimately an indulgence that’s an extension of its series finale and may only offer a sense of closure for the creators involved rather than its fans.
When Walter White graced the screen over a decade ago, he was a different kind of anti-hero. Not that he did bad things or because he had a heart gold or showed remorse for his actions. Simply because he was a family man, a chemistry teacher, and was working two jobs to make ends meet. Sure, he had that incurable cancer, but to put it simply, he wasn’t born into this **** like Tony Soprano. He had a choice that only free will can provide, and only a man of science would never allow faith to dictate his path like gangsters from Jersey. As Mr. White tumbled down the rabbit hole of the amoral, Jesse Pinkman climbed out of that well and was the only villain with any real redeemable quality; practically going through his own personal purgatory being stuck in that hole while making the famous blue meth that drove all the boys and girls crazy in the greater Albuquerque, NM area. When he finally escaped that compound on that El Camino, we were left to wonder what happened next and that has left fans salivating for one more look at a character that was worth saving.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is, really, one of the bigger television events to come around in years and was meant to give those meth-heads what they want. Breaking Bad ended too early for some, while fans hypothesized AMC couldn’t afford to make a deal happen because they had so much money tied up in the media’s crush, Mad Men. The result was a show that never had a poor episode, couldn’t of out-stayed its welcome, that ended on such a high that people clamored to know where exactly our favorite little ***** went off to on that moon-soaked nighttime desert highway. After five years of waiting, creator Vince Gilligan either felt there was still a story left to be explored or was offered too much cold hard cash to pass on — or possibly both. So, which one exactly is it? It feels like a little of both, like an indulgence, and like anything that tends to satisfy a craving, you may regret it later.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are several strong moments in El Camino. Many though will point to the fact that there are so many remakes or reboots in Hollywood because there are simply no original ideas left in the world (or studio heads will throw money at sure things like proven winners who are always good investments). It’s a hard film to enjoy with the tiniest of spoilers. So I won’t go into a detailed summary to make sure this is as spoiler-free as possible, and I will just tell you the film is heavily invested in the enjoyment of past characters that pop up in the film from the series. The first act, surprisingly, is the slowest part of the film, and it starts to pick up when a series of layered flashbacks have been folded into the story to create a greater understanding of Paul’s character’s inner turmoil and to, again, establish why we should care about his future. The problem is the script feels like not just an extension of the series finale, but a rehashing of what we already assumed was happening. The upshot, while entertaining, has the narrative stuck spinning its wheels in the familiar territory, and reminds us how far superior the show actually was.
Breaking Bad had always been a literal series, but the end of the film (and the finale) is steeped in imagery. If that cage Pinkman was held in was his purgatory, he may have paid for his previous sins, since the last act of El Camino reminded me of a famous Robert Frost poem, while symbolizing a sense of closure for a character that you may feel has been redeemed. The problem is Gilligan made a film to create closure for those who wanted it, but I’m not sure this movie does that for that fevering fanbase of the series; it may create that sense for just himself or Paul. While El Camino is moderately enjoyable escapism, there are some who never wanted to know what happened to Frasier when he went after Charlotte or what’s next for Jed Bartlet when he wakes up tomorrow or if Tony Soprano got whacked by that man in that members only jacket. There is already closure and satisfaction in getting lost in one’s head about what could have happened; you may wish you were left with a little more open-ended mystery.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.