Nostalgia is a hell of a drug (see: Brexit, Trump, endless average reboots raking in cash). Yet, heading to see The Many Saints of Newark, the prequel to The Sopranos, there was a sense of optimism that maybe, just maybe, this attempt to cash in on a much-loved series would buck the Fast and Furious 203823: Vin Diesel Becomes a Transformer trend.
Sadly, despite the obvious visionary talent David Chase has been blessed with, the film felt like someone had downed most of a glass of The Sopranos and filled it up again with water. The main plot was simultaneously drawn out and patched together. The best bits of the film were the same as the series: based on the Soprano family, and not the Moltisanti clan. This is a problem, as The Many Saints of Newark revolves around the latter.
The film gets off to a hammy start, with a voiceover from Chris Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) as we pan through a cemetery. Whether this was a poor artistic choice or simply a reminder to everyone that, yes, this is in the Sopranos universe, is unclear.
The film has plenty of gratuitous violence juxtaposed with slapstick humour, a potent, pendulum-swinging combination that we saw perfected in the series (and currently expertly utilised by bad-subtitle sensation Squid Game). But instead of these elements being deftly woven together like they are in the original, the sequences mostly take you out of the action.
Also gone are the Kafkaesque elements of the show, from the exploration of impenetrable, nonsensical mob rules to the endless parade of seemingly identical street corners and petrol stations we see Tony getting dropped off at during the series. Instead we get a parade of social events and expository dialogue, which isn’t inherently bad, but also does make it feel like a Godfather parody.
The most emotionally arresting scenes are with a young Anthony and his family, although part of that could just be an obsession with the titular character of the original series. There are also plenty of nods to the fandom, which is appreciated but ultimately unhelpful for the film as a standalone piece.
The Newark Riot/black gangster element of the film feels like a nod to social justice movements more than something vital to the plot, which is not ideal considering it’s the main tension throughout most of the film. While it’s good that black actors were given prominent roles, at times they felt underdeveloped, used a device. This isn’t to say this happened because they were black; the entire cast (sans the Soprano family) suffer the same fate. If you’re a fan of the original show, The Many Saints of Newark has enough to keep you happy. At exactly two-hours, it’s not a self-indulgent length, and it’s always nice to see characters you know return to the screen. But looking at the film on its own terms, it’s hard not to conclude that it’s better to leave some things in the past.
Sandeep is a writer based in London. He recently completed his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and was longlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2021. He loves all kinds of beer, from cheap lagers to stouts so dark they would fight for Sauron.