Likely to satisfy only diehard Sopranos fans, this prequel requires more than an ability to recognize key characters as their younger selves (although that is admittedly fun). It feels arrogant of creator David Chase to think that most moviegoers will show up with a full memory of what went down in Northern New Jersey more than a decade ago. To really enjoy The Many Saints of Newark, viewers need a solid understanding of key moments in the DiMeo crime family's future lives, and almost no friendly reminders or flash forwards are provided. And the feeling that each line carries a connection to the future is likely to leave passive fans/those less familiar with the HBO series feeling lost and bored.
Just like Tony, the story plods, but that's not unlike the series. The Sopranos is arguably the best crime drama series in history, but not every episode was a sizzler. Episodes built on one another until something earth-shattering happened, and that may be what's going on here. The film seems like it might be the foundation of a potential series reboot, particularly with the introduction of Dickie's Black buddy Harold (Leslie Odom, Jr.), whose cultural awakening provides the film's most intriguing elements. Meanwhile, Tony Soprano ranks among the most complex TV characters of all time, and James Gandolfini left big shoes for his son Michael to fill. Michael's acting skills aren't quite up to his dad's yet, but he demonstrates real promise and embodies Tony so fully that it's uncanny. The Sopranos was groundbreaking because it turned criminals into heroes and, with its success, ushered in a new era of antihero protagonists. In 1999, that was edgy and exciting, but now, even Disney is making empathetic heroes out of their cartoon villains. In 2021, caring about irredeemable mafiosos is tiresome. While adults may get some pleasure out of revisiting a series that was a big part of the landscape in the Aughts, teens coming out of a pandemic deserve better than a celebration of the worst of us.