WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Many Saints of Newark, available on HBO Max and in theaters.
Long-awaited by fans, The Many Saints of Newark details the youth of Tony Soprano and how many of the characters in the classic HBO TV series came to be. Despite being a prequel to the critically acclaimed series, the movie never overindulges in fanservice, nostalgia or references to The Sopranos.
Instead, the movie concentrates on the titular character Dickie Moltisanti and his relationship with his family, which includes, of course, his nephew Tony. By refraining from the tempting idea of just focusing on familiar characters, The Many Saints of Newark is able to tell a story all its own without becoming a gigantic reunion movie.
How The Many Saints of Newark Refrains from Nostalgia
As mentioned, Dickie Moltisanti, a character referenced occasionally in the TV series, is the main star of The Many Saints of Newark, with most of the story relating to him in some way. Major characters from The Sopranos such as Tony's mother Livia Soprano, Paulie Gualtieri and Silvio all show up, although the latter two are essentially glorified cameos. In fact, Paulie's trademark humor and his equally iconic laugh are nowhere to be found.
Instead, the backstory to the universe given in the film is almost entirely independent of things shown or even mentioned in the series' plot. Some elements are expanded upon, shown again or shown for the first time. For instance, Dickie's death, Johnny Boy shooting Livia's hair and Tony seeing his father get arrested are all mentioned or even shown in the TV show and played out again here. There's also Tony's Uncle Junior first spouting his iconic line of Tony never having the makings of a varsity athlete. Beyond these brief sequences, however, everything feels fairly original.
Why The Lack of Sopranos References Is a Good Thing
This may be somewhat disappointing to fans of The Sopranos, many of whom were likely interested in seeing members of the classic cast one more time. In terms of the film's narrative itself, however, it makes for a much better movie. After all, The Many Saints of Newark could have easily been younger versions of Silvio, Paulie and even Tony doing exactly what their older incarnations did on The Sopranos. Other characters such as Bobby Bacala, Sr. could also have been shown in their life-ending prime, showcasing events that the show talked about.
This option is definitely more nostalgic, but it probably would have resulted in a movie that was a greatest hits collection of scenes and concepts for the show that it was a prequel to. It's fair to say that The Many Saints of Newark has a storyline that even the most ardent fan of The Sopranos could not have predicted, which helped to allow viewers to watch its story unfold naturally.
Conversely, many of the appearances of characters from The Sopranos seem almost tacked on. For example, Carmela, the future wife of Tony, shows up in essentially a cameo, and her presence adds nothing to the story outside of seeing her younger incarnation. Even Tony Soprano himself feels somewhat glossed over in the grand scheme of Dickie's story. This could have been even more egregious, however, had the film focused even more on callbacks and shout-outs that set up the show's events. After all, the movie's attempt to explicitly foreshadow things with Christopher and Tony falls completely flat, feeling like a blunt jab and wink to the audience instead of anything natural. Fortunately, the rest of The Many Saints of Newark avoids this issue, giving it a narrative that is firmly established in the world of The Sopranos while still telling its own tale.
The Many Saints of Newark is now in theaters and on HBO Max.
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