el camino early buzz

When we last saw Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, inarguably the most tragic character in Breaking Bad‘s Shakespearean tragedy, he had escaped from Walter White’s massacre of the neo-Nazis that had held him captive — free, feral, and driving onto the open road in an El Camino. It was the closest thing to a happy ending that creator Vince Gilligan could give one of his characters.

Now El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie fills in what happens after in an epilogue that, according to critics, gives Jesse the ending he deserves. But is it the ending that Breaking Bad needed? The El Camino early buzz is out, and the critics are mixed on that.

Time praises Paul’s performance in particular in El Camino, stating that the film gives him the chance to be “an action hero—albeit a uniquely conflicted, exhausted and in many ways broken one.”

Aside from a few unnecessary character cameos, most of which you could easily guess but none of which I will spoil here, El Camino avoids the pitfalls of this year’s many feature-length sequels to TV shows. There’s little of the fan-service inanity that abounded in the Downton Abbey film and none of the sentimental self-indulgence of Transparent’s insufferable musical finale. Like AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, as well as morally flexible saloon owner Al Swearengen’s (Ian McShane) storyline in HBO’s Deadwood: The Movie, it completes the unfinished portrait of a character who remains on viewers’ minds.

Detroit News calls El Camino a “cherry on top” to Breaking Bad‘s “ice cream sundae,” writing:

“El Camino” recreates the tone and feel of “Breaking Bad” so effectively that it’s a wonder it wasn’t shot at the same time and stuck in a vault until now. It’s not as sharp as the series was at its best, however, and it takes a few narrative shortcuts the series would have made sure to plot out in more exacting fashion.

CNET was a little harsher on the film, writing that the film reminds “us why we love Breaking Bad, even if it doesn’t have much to add.”

In some ways, El Camino feels like a selection of deleted scenes: enjoyable but not essential. And yet, even if it feels like a Breaking Bad episode, it’s a reminder that Breaking Bad was absolutely one of the greatest TV shows ever made. Suspenseful, funny, emotional and endlessly surprising, El Camino reminds us why we love Breaking Bad.

Vulture had the same reaction, praising the Gilligan’s filmmaking and Paul’s “raw, anguished work,” but writing that El Camino is essentially a piece of fan service.

Beyond its brash confidence as a piece of filmmaking and its homages to the Western (including the use of a wider frame than was used on the show), El Camino is fan service executed at a very high level — an attempt to answer the perennial child’s bedtime-story question, “And then what happened?” after the words “The End” have already been pronounced and the parent has reached for the light switch.

Rolling Stone was a little more positive, calling El Camino “fan service firing on all cylinders” that justifies its existence by the sheer craft on display.

[I]t still feels like the gift to fans it was originally designed to be, rather than something essential to the larger Breaking Bad experience. But when you have Vince Gilligan operating near the peak of his powers, and taking the time to fix one of the few things the show didn’t get quite right, it makes for one hell of an entertaining gift.

But NME was the most negative on El Camino, saying “the film no one asked for adds a post-credits scene to an already perfect finale.”

But most emotional moments are indulgent and inconclusive, adding unnecessary layers of fan service to an already complete product. The film ends as the show did – Jesse braves his future alone. It’s just puzzling to watch two more hours and reach, essentially, the exact same conclusion.

The consensus seems to be that El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is fan service, but critics are divided on whether that is inherently good or bad. Either way, it’s a display of writer-director Vince Gilligan’s skills and another showcase for the always incredible Aaron Paul.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is streaming on Netflix right now, and we’ll have our own review on /Film soon.

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