The point’s not so much to tie up any loose ends, but for Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan—who wrote and directed El Camino—to simply pay a visit to the world he and the Breaking Bad team so carefully constructed over that groundbreaking show’s five seasons. In addition to Jesse, we’re reunited with a few select residents of that indelible world, both in the film’s linear continuation of the story and in several flashbacks, although to say anything more would definitely be spoiling the fun.
And El Camino (it’s named after a getaway car for good reason, as you’ll see) is not only a wonderful reminder of how good Breaking Bad was, but how it was good. The storytelling is patient and thoughtful, and the suspense is expertly doled out by Gilligan. He once again shows his affinity for tradespeople and honest, hard-working craft, even within the world of thieves. In El Camino, for instance, copious amounts of research must have been done in the fields of vacuum repair and welding.
Breaking Bad’s spinoff prequel show, Better Call Saul, has proven itself to be marvelous on its own terms. But the further it gets away from the original recipe, the more it becomes its own thing, a window into its own unique world. El Camino, too, is its own thing (and that thing is an episodic thriller, with tinges of the noir and western genres), but it’s much more strongly connected to the original Breaking Bad, playing with that show’s grand arc to achieve its emotional subtleties.
During the first hour or so, I initially thought it was a thing could stand completely on its own, and perhaps it can (you’ll have to ask someone who’s never seen Breaking Bad). But knowledge of the world, and what came before this particular chapter, only enhances the experience.
It’s just really good, much, much better than it needed to be. Aaron Paul surpasses his work in the series, playing an older, darker, wiser but not necessarily more enlightened version of Jesse. And the new characters—there aren’t many—are just as strong, particularly a cop played by Scott MacArthur, who was recently misused in The Righteous Gemstones but is fantastic here.
Plus, El Camino has—okay, one tiny spoiler here—Jesse Plemons singing along to Dr. Hook’s “Sharing the Night Together.” It might be the greatest thing you see all year.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix.