[Header Image: Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman | Netflix]
While this post is a spoiler free review, there will be spoilers for the tv series.
Breaking Bad was primarily about Walter White (Bryan Cranston), there’s no denying that. His cancer diagnosis is the catalyst for everything that takes place in the show so it makes sense that it would begin and end with him. The closure of Breaking Bad, while leaving some things open, ended very closed up and final for Walter and his story. Everything was essentially tied up in a nice, neat little bow but over its 5 season run, there was one other character who became just as important and garnered a lot of attention. That, of course, was Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
When we left him, he had just escaped months of captivity and we see him drive away while he’s screaming and crying. Although it was great to see him finally get away from the horrible conditions he had to endure, there was no real and definitive ending. It wasn’t as final as Walt’s ending and was left up to some interpretation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but considering everything Jesse went through in the lead up to the finale, it felt like there had to be something more to his ending. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie provides that for us.
I’ll say right off the bat that El Camino can hypothetically be watched even if you haven’t seen the tv show, however, it definitely hits harder if you have. It’s also slightly easier to understand and you can get the meaning/significance of the various cameos and references. I think the key to really caring about this movie and enjoying it is to already have some kind of attachment to the show and/or Jesse. El Camino has got a lot of the qualities that made Breaking Bad episodes so intriguing and good to watch, however, there are some episodes of the series that outshine El Camino. At the end of the day, regardless of where it fits in in terms of quality, it certainly can blend in well with the show.
And that’s something I have to give it credit for. Breaking Bad ended just over 6 years ago. That’s a long time and naturally, the actors have all changed to some degree but they made it work for this movie. Some were drastically different while others were subtly so but the more I just sat back and enjoyed watching it, the less those differences became apparent. I finished my re-watch of the show right before I put El Camino on so I was accustomed to how all of the characters looked prior to the movie but even then I was able to adjust to any changes and just enjoy it. The personalities and relationships were all on point and it really did feel like stepping back into this world again. Throughout the movie, we get to see some of the key relationships in Jesse’s life. I won’t mention which ones because I think it’s fun to see for yourself who has cameos but I will say that these come in the form of flashbacks and present day events.
Jesse went through a lot throughout Breaking Bad and those people we re-visit were key in his growth and development. Some of those relationships were positive, some were negative, and some were a mix but it was all integral in making Jesse who he is by the time we reach El Camino. Falling back into this universe, we get to witness the character that was so easy to fall in love with throughout the show. The movie takes place immediately after so, of course, Jesse is still highly recognisable thanks to his many strengths and flaws that are present throughout El Camino but we finally get to see the impact of everything he went through including but not limited to the many months of captivity. Aaron Paul does a fantastic job of playing the sole lead and bringing Jesse back into our lives in a way that feels like no time has passed at all. He was just as phenomenal as he was back in Breaking Bad, perhaps more so, and his performance was everything it needed to be to help close up Jesse’s story.
It’s not just these characters and relationships or Aaron Paul’s performance that feels familiar (and even improved) despite the 6 year gap, even the cinematography was familiar. Of course, because El Camino is a movie there were slight differences especially when it comes to colour (more so saturation) and aspect ration. It had that stereotypical film look to it while still managing to capture the same aesthetic and vibe that Breaking Bad had. Generally, and not just in terms of visuals, the movie managed to do a great job at providing all the lovable qualities of the show while creating a whole new feel that sets the movie apart just enough. This is Jesse’s story, it’s bound to be different and it shows in every aspect while still fitting into the overall universe.
Speaking of the story, it’s not overly complicated but it is enjoyable especially, like I said, if you already have some kind of attachment. El Camino was definitely needed and it works as a movie because it wouldn’t any other way. A third show would have been too much – although I’d never really complain at seeing more of Jesse Pinkman (/Aaron Paul) – and a bonus episode (or something similar) would have taken away from the fact that Breaking Bad ended with Walter White as it should have. By doing a movie it allowed for Jesse, an important character to the show, to get his own conclusion without infringing on every part of the show’s finale.
At the end of the day, I’ll say this. If you were a fan of the show, this is definitely a must watch. The writing is still very good and another familiarity. It was written by Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad. The plot is intriguing and the pacing and structure easy and comfortable to follow just like the show. Like its predecessor, the movie manages to have many layers without going too over the top and complicating things. While telling its own story, El Camino only ever adds to what happened on the show and never takes away from it. It is the much needed second-conclusion that was satisfactory and managed to avoid feeling like some kind of unnecessary fan service.
Rating: ★★★★ /5