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What the Rotten Tomatoes reviews are saying about El Camino: A Breaking Bad movie

Saddle up, Breaking Bad fans: it's time to hit the road.

Reviews are coming in for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, and it's near-unanimous: if only for two hours, the greatest television drama of all time is back, in all its gritty, atmospheric glory. The flick is currently certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie picks up immediately after the events of the series finale, in which Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was freed from the clutches of a Nazi gang by Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the man responsible for his captivity — and, really, for everything bad in his life — in the first place. White had paid a visit to the compound where Pinkman had been held and forced to cook methamphetamine for months, bringing along a sneaky surprise in the trunk of his car: a machine gun, rigged to a makeshift automated turret. 

After wiping out the gang, White succumbed to his injuries while Pinkman sped off into the night, weeping, screaming, and laughing, in a stolen El Camino — and this is where we left him. If you're expecting El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which was written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan, to play like a feature-length Breaking Bad episode in which we'll finally learn Pinkman's fate, well… good, because that's exactly what the flick delivers.

"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," wrote Adam Graham of the Detroit News. "Breaking Bad was already an ice cream sundae. Simply think of El Camino as the cherry on top."

Praise for Paul's performance was liberal and effusive among all reviewers, and even those who found El Camino to be a non-essential addition to the Breaking Bad canon couldn't help but admire how effortlessly Gilligan, Paul, and company executed their feature-length coda. "El Camino is a high-quality piece of suspense and action filmmaking carried by Paul's still-tremendous performance as Jesse Pinkman," wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Dan Fienberg. "It looks great, sounds great and if you're a fan, it's full of cameos and references that are sure to amuse. It's also… largely unnecessary as it pertains to the larger Breaking Bad narrative. At least it's unnecessary in an innocuous and entertaining way… Gilligan remains a precise and complicated visual stylist, and there are myriad rewards to seeing him get to work with a big screen tableau."

Many critics also noted the ease with which Paul transitioned from supporting player to lead, with Time's Judy Berman making reference to the fact that the actor's star-making Breaking Bad turn hasn't exactly translated to film stardom — and opining that El Camino could help to remedy that state of affairs. "Paul earned three Emmys for his supporting role on Breaking Bad, and in El Camino, he delivers a mesmerizing lead performance that proves he deserves a spot on Hollywood's A-list," she wrote. "In truth, it should put him in the Oscar conversation, but this is a TV sequel distributed by Netflix that won't meet the Academy's eligibility requirements… the movie, which contains as many nail-biting moments as the show used to spread over a full season, gives him something new to be: an action hero — albeit a uniquely conflicted, exhausted and in many ways broken one."

Of course, you simply can't please everyone, and the fact that El Camino basically added nothing new to Breaking Bad's story was enough to turn off a critic or two. "It's not that El Camino is bad, it's not," wrote Dominic Patten of Deadline. The Vince Gilligan-penned and directed project is actually worse than that in many ways. It's worse because it neither sucks nor soars. El Camino mainly just fills space, and likely time — something Breaking Bad never did."

For the most part, though, critics agreed that just because El Camino wasn't exactly necessary doesn't make it inessential. "It's hard to imagine El Camino failing to satisfy most fans of the series," wrote Matt Zoller Seitz for Vulture. "Although there may be scattered complaints about Gilligan needlessly prolonging a story that he already wrapped up… the most original and affecting aspect of El Camino is that it gives Breaking Bad's co-lead his own, very belated happy ending. In contrast to Walter's sendoff, this feels like an unambiguously good and deserving outcome."

Do you have to be a Breaking Bad fan to appreciate El Camino?

El Camino may be an excellent film by any measure, but there's one thing it's not: a standalone feature, waiting to be picked up on and admired by the uninitiated. Many critics went out of their way to point out that, while "fan service" is perhaps too glib a description for the film, those unfamiliar with Breaking Bad are likely to find themselves lost from the outset.

"If you're hazy on what happened in [Breaking Bad], be warned that El Camino does not hold your hand," wrote Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com."You need to remember what happened at the end of season five… we see glimpses of [Pinkman's] time in captivity through flashback, including an extended one with [Jesse] Plemons' Todd that directly informs the plot of the film." 

Tallerico went on to opine that fans of the series will find plenty of thematic parallels in El Camino, particularly in how the film examines the basic yet incredibly thorny concept that actions have consequences. "One action leads to another," he wrote, "from the very beginning of the show through its epilogue. Now we're just left to wonder what happened to [Walter White's wife] Skyler. Maybe we'll find out in 2025."

Perhaps we will. In the meantime, you can check out El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on Netflix, and it's also screening in theaters in select markets; after this limited theatrical run is complete, the flick will air on AMC on a date to be announced.