El Camino: An Unnecessary Love Letter

El Camino: An Unnecessary Love Letter

The gorgeous epilogue that no one needed.


If you've made it through the entirety of the original Breaking Bad series, then you'll understand why the bar for El Camino was set so ludicrously high. After all, Breaking Bad stole shelves of Emmys during its five season run. It established Bryan Cranston as a heavy-hitting dramatic lead and one of the most iconic villains of television history. It single-handedly launched Aaron Paul into the spotlight and it's elevated Vince Gilligan to prestige status as a writer and showrunner.

Summarily, it's critically received as one of the best series in living memory. And adding that to the fact that El Camino is premiering over six years after the Breaking Bad series finale, and it's basically been made impossible for the film to capture the same magic as the original series. Actors age out of characters, crews move on, and writer's rooms flip. In some essential way, El Camino would always have been different and noticeably off-kilter from the beloved series whose act it's forced to follow.

That being said, Vince Gilligan and the team were clearly very aware of this hurdle and tried their damndest to capture the essential beauty and suspense of a Breaking Bad episode in the form of a two hour thriller. And I'm not just talking about fan service, though there's a hell of a lot of that, too,

Without a doubt, the crew of this project were desperately running back and forth, working their asses off, all to pull off a miracle: recapturing the original magic of Breaking Bad. Yet unsurprisingly, they don't completely succeed—while the cinematography of the film is nothing less than utterly spectacular and even surpasses the original series in many regards, the writing feels just a hair off the mark.

The opening interaction between a season five Jesse and Mike, for example, feels a tad too prophetic and wisened for this often comedic and perennially bickering pair. True, Jesse matures by leaps and bounds in season four and five, and perhaps the two could have ostensibly had a conversation of this kind nearing the end, but a flashback of this kind should be more completely reflecting the complications and charm of their mentor-mentee relationship, rather than just coming off as the nostalgic foreshadowing and exposition that it comes off as in the film. Season one Jesse and Walt suffer too, as their bumbling ineptitude and laid-back chemistry of the early episode is lost in the movie's foresight and heavy awareness of the show's future direction. Walt comes off so much heavier than he did at the beginning of the series, and it feels more like fanservice than a natural infusion into El Camino as an independent and full-formed film endeavor.

And it's because of this desperate reaching on the writing team's part that, in some capacity, the film still manages to feel scarily similar to a television series, though that series doesn't consistently feel like it's truly from Breaking Bad.

Simply put, Gilligan and company overshoot the mark in terms of slotting this film into the context of Breaking Bad, and it's likely that burning need to match up perfectly to the television series, a practically impossible feat if they just slightly off kilter flashback sequences are anything to go off of, that makes El Camino suffer as a film. Because it's not really playing to that medium. Instead, it plays like an extended tv episode, a finale following the act of a finale that was already pitch perfect. Of course, that's not to say that the experience is worse or less than worthy because it's more an episode than a movie. That's not the problem here. The problem is that this is a marketed feature film that's trying to be something it's not.

A television series track characters vertically and studies drawn-out arcs across long periods of time. It's a slower, steadier medium with room to dance across complex and nuanced cycles of action with a greater freedom to stop and start each episode in a more varied manner, as long as these creative choices are wrapped up in a longer and ultimately structurally satisfying series. But films track a single change in state. Films are tighter, more chaotic, and must begin and end with tight punctuations of action. Films have a very particular rhythm that they are compelled to follow in order to uphold a fully engaging hour and a half to three hour experience, and that's where El Camino falls a little flat.

The action is riveting and there's this masterful suspense sewn through the entire runtime, but the beats feel off. They're dancing to a different step, and it makes the film's final act and ending feel incomplete, wandering and a little awkward. Which is part of what makes the entire movie come off as superfluous and a little unnecessary. "Felina" ends with a sharp beat of action, tearfully, perfectly satisfying punctuation of death, freedom, and the most fulfilling echo of resolution in television history.

Now, before any avid lovers of the film get up in arms, let's ask ourselves a few key questions: Is this movie good? Yes, I would say that it's magnificently shot, lovingly written, and gracefully assembled by a team of creators and artists that clearly care about this property. It's by no means perfect, as structurally speaking and dialogue-wise the series is trying too hard to play to the beats of of the original television series and not enough like an empowered and self-supporting piece of cinema. Yet, ultimately, yes. It's a project with a lot of good things in it, a few great things, and a sprinkle of not-too-hot. Nowhere is this film terrible or even really bad, but rather a bit messy or less riveting or profound than it could have been if it had just remembered to balance out it's relationship to the original series within its own necessities as a new, essentially different piece of media. All in all, this is a good experience, though the beauty of Breaking Bad may crush the merits of this film under the enormous shadow of its own legendary status.

However, there's still one glaring issue with the project that goes beyond just whether or not it's a good experience: Does the film say anything new about the characters or world of the original series? In the end, does the film really do anything that justifies its own existence, at all? And you know what? While I there are certain things about this film that I will defend against any criticism, my answer is still no. It adds nothing beyond what the series gave us to truly support its creation. While its expansion on Jesse's torture under the Aryan gang and its tracking of his complicated escape beyond the series finale is given to fans with great care and love, an epilogue to cap off the little details we may have been wondering about, it's all still very superfluous.

The final image of Jesse, ragged and sobbing and cackling with joy as he's driving away from Walt and the massacred brotherhood, is all the resolution that we truly ever needed. Hell, it's kept us content and without complaints for over six years, and while El Camino is a love letter that I smile upon without shame or ungratefulness, we have to own up to the truth that it's a lovely gesture we all could have done without if, in another world, Gilligan and co had just went about their business and left things as is.

So there it is. If there's one solid piece of criticism I could give to this film, as well as a nugget of wisdom for you readers, it's that you should go into El Camino with the mindset that it's the sixty-third episode of the series, an epilogue or generous post-word, rather than a feature film. If you step into the experience with that frame of mind, you'll likely get much more out of the experience than I did the first go-round with this film. You'll smile and feel your heart warm at the fanservice, appreciate their rough attempts to approximate the character interactions of the original series, and enjoy the truly incredible aspects of the projects—particularly its amazing cinematography and excellent maintenance of an ever-present suspense—while cutting the film a bit of slack in its messiness in balancing what was marketed as "Breaking Bad: The Movie."

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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