As the title makes clear, Breaking Bad is back today on Netflix and in select theaters with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie – and that’s not a great thing.
Unlike the brilliance that was so much of the multiple Emmy winning series’ five season run on AMC, El Camino is a half measure sequel, to paraphrase Jonathan Banks’ Mike Ehrmantraut in that pivotal twelfth episode of Season 3 of Breaking Bad.
It’s not that El Camino is bad, it’s not. The Vince Gilligan penned and directed project is actually worse than that in many ways. It’s worse because it neither sucks nor soars. El Camino mainly just fills space, and likely time – something Breaking Bad never did.
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Even with an inevitable apex of a flashback reunion between Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman and his now deceased mentor-in-crime Walter White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston, the Breaking Bad movie is obsessed with neatly tying to tie up the dangling ends that gave the series 2013 “Felina” finale such endurance.
Not comfortable to let what was just be, Gilligan’s feature directorial debut seeks to mop up the mystery of what happened next to the ravaged Pinkman. Literally with blood on his hands and scars all over his body, where will the Paul played character go now that he’s escaped pedal to the metal from the white supremacists’ New Mexico compound in the 1978 Chevrolet that makes up the two hour and two-minute-long film’s name?
El Camino’s eventual answer is a lot of old faces showing up, a lot of bad stuff happening to a traumatized Jesse and then there’s a chance to start clean and anew in Alaska. Which is to say, picking up in the seconds after the final episode of the AMC series and Pinkman’s flight from meth making enslavement, El Camino is honestly just two melded together middling and ultimately unnecessary Breaking Bad scripts that Gilligan wrote and said “let’s do this.”
Now, two middling episodes of Breaking Bad are still better than most things on television from any era.
However, far from the exceptional epilogue it may aspire to be, El Camino confirms that sometimes artists like Gilligan are not the best evaluators of their own work. No need to go into a sub textual read or get caught in the minutia, but El Camino is a script that should have stayed a dream and nothing more.
Teased out by Paul and promoted like crazy by Netflix across many platforms, El Camino will absolutely bring viewers to the streamer. The global trending on social media immediately after the movie dropped early this morning made that abundantly apparent. It’s simple, people rightly love the near perfect provenance that was Breaking Bad and they wanted more – so Vince Gilligan and Netflix gave it to them.
It doesn’t take much to figure out why.
From a time when AMC was more than merely the home of The Walking Dead and its various spinoffs, Breaking Bad was the addictive series that gave us the genius team-up premise of a cancer addled high school science teacher turned methamphetamine kingpin and his self-destructive former student. The two-time Primetime Emmy Outstanding Drama Series also served up more small screen excellence in Cranston and Paul’s performances season after season, the “Fly” episode in Season 3, Krysten Ritter’s Jane and the horrific accident that was the fallout from her horrific death, the pink teddy bear, Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman and, the classic, “I am the danger.”
Or, as Paul summed it all up so perfectly on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the other night:
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) October 10, 2019
While some may still bicker about the stretch of the restitution and machine gun closure of the blockbuster series after 62 often shrewd episodes, the consequential filled Breaking Bad brought it home in the end with a finale that soon seemed an inevitable conclusion for fans old and new. Yet, as far too many revivals, reboots and reimaginings often unfortunately reveal, if you dangle enough money and enough flattery in front of the right people, nothing really ends on television nowadays.
However, with El Camino’s narrative bottle show construction, you have to wonder if Gilligan really and truly thought there was more Breaking Bad story to tell after the murderous end of the show six years ago and the past four seasons of prequel Better Call Saul, then where is it?
Paul discharges his duties eagerly with the material he’s working with, but that story certainly isn’t here. Even with a lot of bells, whistles and baubles to distract you from what is absent, EL Camino lacks the essentialness the defined the best of Breaking Bad. Despite gilding the tattered lily with appearances by Cranston, Banks, Ritter, Jess Plemons, Jeffersons’ vet Marla Gibbs, Robert Forster – though oddly not Odenkirk’s huckster lawyer Goodman – and more, the workmen thrust of El Camino reeks of desiring only to get from one place to another with maximum efficiency.
Perhaps it’s putting the meth cart before the horse, but the beautifully shot film seems to exist primarily as an autobahn for a probable new Paul-led snowy spinoff once the actor’s gigs on HBO’s Westworld and AppleTV+’s Truth Be Told allow for it. In contrast to the deserts around Albuquerque, the cold and mountainous final scene of Paul’s character driving off with a new identify into a new kind of wilderness in El Camino just screams out “green light me! “
You also know, if you know anything about Breaking Bad, that impulsive and “Yeah Science!” declaring Jesse is eventually going to get himself in trouble in his new surroundings of America’s 49th state – and that’s a show unto itself, isn’t it? Know too that, as Netflix loses licensed inventory to upcoming streaming rivals, producers Sony Pictures Television aren’t going to be able to say no for long to the towering sums the Reed Hastings-run company will be sure to offer up for such fetching programming to counter Bob Iger, Tim Cook, John Stankey, and Brian Roberts.
Netflix and Breaking Bad go way back.
Gilligan made it clear at the 65th Primetime Emmys, binge viewing on Netflix is what gave Breaking Bad its boost when cancellation by AMC looked a done deal in those early years. Toss in a few more flashback scenes with Cranston and you’ve got a Fleetwood Bounder full of treats in a new Pinkman series.
Look, I am one of the last people on the planet to underestimate the skills of Vince Gilligan, but will he have cooked up a worthy scion to Breaking Bad? Based on El Camino, I have to say no.
And Gilligan knew it over six years ago.
Back just before the fifth and the final season of Breaking Bad, we now know that Jeffrey Katzenberg had offered Gilligan and gang $75 million for three more episodes.
If the deal had happened, the then DreamWorks Animation boss planned to cut the episodes up into 5 to 10-minute chapters and release them online daily to paying fans l— sounds like his upcoming short-form content Quibi streamer, right? But no at the time because Gilligan said no to the money and the concept, because he didn’t think there was more Breaking Bad to tell.
As El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie proves, Vince Gilligan was right then and he would be truly best served now to trust his gut.
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