The Sopranos prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark, premiered on HBO Max on Friday. Just like most of the other movies that earned same day streaming debuts because of the pandemic, viewers should be thrilled they didn't have to go to a physical movie theater to see it. Many Saints was enjoyable, flawed, and ultimately pointless. And the ending? Oh, the ending.
To borrow a phrase from Junior Soprano, The Many Saints of Newark had the makings of a varsity athlete, but never comes close to reaching its potential. The cast is mostly great. The nods to the future and the original Sopranos are mostly fun. But as a movie... why? Why does this exist?
I'm particularly perplexed by the ending which makes the original cut to black seem like the capital-a ART it was meant to be. The movie dragged at many points and yet when I realized there were only 10 minutes left, I wondered how they could possibly cover anything. They chose to cover nothing. Tony was turned away and then his hero was dead. You would think that would have allowed him to go free, but instead he did a pinky swear with a corpse as the theme song dropped. The cheese in the old country isn't even that strong.
As the ending of an episode, right before we see some stuff we actually care about with the Tony Soprano origin story a week later? Sure. But as the end of a prequel movie where that's just it? Bad! That was bad.
It almost doesn't matter how good Michael Gandolfini was as young Tony Soprano (most of the time). Corey Stoll was wonderful as Junior. Vera Farmiga was a disturbingly realistic younger version of Olivia. Jon Berenthal was also great as Johnny. (Those two certainly did a great job showing why Tony needed therapy so many years later.) And it was amusing to see young Sil and Paulie and see someone react to someone who introduced himself as Pussy without explanation.
As fun as that part was we probably should have just spent two hours at the Soprano home. Not that our time wasn't well spent in the hour it took Dickie to date his step-mom and set up shooting a hole in a door.
The biggest reveal of the movie was that Junior was behind the murder of Christopher's father, which... OK? Obviously the entire Sopranos universe is made up, but this was clearly dreamed up well after the show ended. Otherwise it would have seemed like fertile ground for conflict at some point in the original 86 episodes. What with Junior being behind the murder of one main character's mentor and another's father. I mean, Christopher was narrating the movie, with knowledge of his own death, but had nothing to say about the guy who had his father murdered? Nitpicky, I know.
If anything, Many Saints should have been a limited series on HBO. Probably two seasons with Tony the kid in the background for one and another with Michael Gandolfini as Tony coming into his own. You know, something we might have cared about. Instead they threw some nods at things we recognized and wrapped it up with a curious final shot and a familiar song. Where have we seen that before?