How difficult is it to top an iconic show that is widely and arguably considered as the best TV show of all time? Even more so, how brave is it to even consider having a follow-up feature presentation and jeopardize the show’s legacy? These questions are rhetorical as you may have understood already because we all it is the toughest task there can be. So, when creator Vince Gilligan thought of having a follow-up story to TV series, Breaking Bad, did he think it through?
The continuation of the legendary show is here but this time in the form of a movie, and on a streaming service. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie picks up exactly where the finale of Breaking Bad left the viewer six years ago and follows Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) escaping a massacre where he was held captive by Neo-Nazis. So what happens to Pinkman after his escape and Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) death is what the crux of the film is. Also, don’t you worry, this one is SPOILER-FREE.
The interesting point in contention here is that you would expect Pinkman just being on the run from cops and appear as a fugitive. But that’s not the case. Apart from obviously trying to stay safe from the law, he also has to be careful about the various criminals that he and Walt were intertwined with during their cooking days. Not only does this make his dilemma more challenging but it also keeps him constantly on the lookout.
Vince Gilligan is a genius. Period. The creator and writer makes sure that just like BB, his writing is what shines in this one too and boy, it does. The first scene of the film is a prelude before we get down to business and it is the subtle hints in the dialogues that remind you how beautifully referential and impactful Gilligan’s writing and directing are.
Let’s make one thing clear, shall we? The bravura of even attempting a continuation or follow-up to a show with immense legacy shouldn’t be undermined. But then, we have seen many try it and fail miserably. Well, El Camino is a reminder of how you can also be successful in that attempt. Of course, going down this path is treading on dangerous waters as you have viewers waiting to slam or be offended by one wrong move but Gilligan makes sure that doesn’t happen here.
It is astonishing how almost pitch-perfect Gilligan is here. This presentation is a movie and the director makes sure to treat it like one. There are advantages to that treatment where the cinematography and screenplay along with background score shifts pacing in a way that every scene appears impactful without having the advantage of being detailed. In fact, in the first few minutes itself, you will fall in love with the editing and cinematography especially where we see scenes switch between present and past.
Tricky. The liberty that the makers didn’t have here is the plethora of characters. The film, in its entirety, relies on Jesse Pinkman and every frame is around him and that is the only reason it gets a tad tiresome. The lack of an otherwise ensemble cast and parallel storylines leaves too much on Paul as Pinkman and there is a slight feeling of fatigue.
But that doesn’t rule out the fact that Paul does a phenomenal job as Pinkman yet again. Get one thing straight. This is different from the character he played in the series. Till six years ago, Paul’s Pinkman shifted from the layers of being naïve, playful and oblivious to vulnerable, guilty and scared. But in El Camino, Paul manages to present entirely new layers to the character where he is broken, disturbed but desperate to start things afresh. He is struggling with his past demons but has to face some more this time. This is an award-worthy performance for Paul and where he has won three Emmys back then for this character in the TV series; if there was a nomination for a leading role at the Oscars (cannot be as it won’t meet the eligibility requirements), he would have been in serious contention.
Pinkman’s go-to buddies Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) provide exactly what they are enlisted in the film for – subtle comic relief. They become the reason for Pinkman continuing his run and they do their job amazingly.
Coming to the big question. Is Walter White there in the film? Let me clarify, Walter White is dead, for sure. But do we have a cameo from Bryan Cranston reprising his role? Okay, I’ll tell you. YES! How and what, you’ll have to find out yourself. There is another surprising cameo from a loved character that you’ll want to look forward to.
From the previous cast, it is just one character that gets center stage apart from Pinkman and that is of Todd. The same person who held Pinkman captive and in the shift to the flashback scenes, we see the twisted relationship between Todd and Pinkman, where the former releases him for a while to take him on a special ‘mission.’ Just like before, Jesse Plemons embodies Todd brilliantly where you know he is menacing and dangerous but isn’t loud or commanding. The mystery aspect he brings to the character is what makes his bond with Pinkman so effectively scary.
It is one thing to be doing fan-service and it is another to be doing it not compromising on the basics of storytelling. Gilligan proves yet again that he cannot go wrong with the Breaking Bad universe and still has it when it comes to justifying this world and the several possibilities it potentially has. The fans of the show, I assure, won’t be disappointed not only because the story is justified but there are several references to the show throughout the film for you to get your nostalgic bulb lightened. The world is familiar, almost loving (psychopathic, I know) and has yet another fitting end (or is it?) to Pinkman’s on-the-run saga. Even though the climax is not a cliffhanger per se, it does boast a set of possibilities ahead. El Camino may not be a step up entirely but gives the satisfaction (and more) of being invested in this universe.
Rating - **** (4/5)