While Paul's age and physical growth can be distracting, he's actually become an even more compelling screen presence with age. The moral calculus of the show's universe, which requires characters to make life-or-death choices in the most stressful circumstances imaginable, plays out in his eyes. Without overdoing it, he lets us see what trauma has done to Jesse. He's still fresh-faced and willing to let his deep, gravelly voice crack with excitement, but there's a grizzled weariness on display that fits well with the Western genre elements Gilligan weaves into the movie's undeniably intense action set-pieces.
It's worth noting that the movie looks fantastic, expanding on the brightly lit, carefully edited visual vocabulary of the series. Unlike the final few seasons of Breaking Bad, which perilously leaned too hard on the idea of Walter White as a powerful drug kingpin, El Camino earns its more grandiose moments. Gilligan rarely overreaches, instead letting Paul play off skilled character actors, including friendly faces like Robert Forster, back as the mysterious Ed, and Jesse Plemons, returning as soft-spoken psycho Todd. More often than not, Gilligan frames their movements in strikingly inventive shots, making effective use of the widescreen format.
Your reaction to El Camino will likely depend on your relationship to Breaking Bad, a historically fraught show that delivered huge, watercooler-talk thrills but one that can feel a little silly and over-wrought when viewed through the rearview mirror of time. (I'll admit that I was mostly exhausted by the show at the end, particularly after Gus exited the series in a gruesome fashion.) But in terms of impact, there's no arguing its subsequent influence on dramas like Ozark and comedies like Barry. While El Camino doesn't quite stand alone as a movie -- the series recap provided by Netflix is helpful but hardly thorough enough to bring a newcomer up to speed -- it is a surprisingly satisfying addendum to the Breaking Bad mythos. Instead of doubling down on the muscle-car roar of the finale, Gilligan thoughtfully tinkers with the engine of his creation. Like his characters, he remains a master at escaping the traps he sets for himself.
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