Sicario: Day of the Soldado and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Stefano Sollima
You know what I thought when I got out of the first movie? This is PRIME material for a franchise! Yeah, the first Sicario was a dark journey through the worst aspects of the War on Drugs which felt REALLY complete as a story, but after it made a boat load at the box office the studio couldn’t help itself from squeezing as much money out of this cash cow as they could which HOPEFULLY means we’ll get a crossover with The Fast and the Furious franchise, but until then we’ll have to get stuck with more straightforward entries of vastly diminishing returns. Okay, that’s a little unfair. After all, it’s not like you COULDN’T make another movie with this cast, and the premise seems like a great starting point to bring up issues surrounding immigration and border patrol that have only become more exacerbated since the last film came out! Wishful thinking I suppose, but you’ve gotta have SOME amount of hope, right!? Will this be a great and topical sequel to an already fantastic movie, or was this project doomed long before it had a chance to say something important about our current political climate? Let’s find out!!
Following the events of the first film, Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick (Josh Brolin and Bencio del Toro) seem to have parted ways at least for the time being as the former is still running operations at the border while the latter is waiting for another chance to hit hard against the Cartel. The good news is that such an opportunity has presented itself and will lead to their most drastic and bloody mission yet! The bad news though is that said chance only happened because terrorist blew up a grocery store in Kansas City where at least one of them seems to have gotten into the country illegally from the border (ugh…) and might have even gotten a bit of help from the Cartel. With a blank check from the government to mess things up in Mexico, Matt decides to kidnap the daughter of one of the Cartel bosses down there (Isabela Moner) and then blame it on one of the other Cartel bosses; causing a civil war within the country that will decimate their stranglehold on the area. Things SORT of go off without a hitch, but once it’s time for them to return the girl under the guise of “finding her” across the border, things go sideways as Matt and Alejandro’s crew is ambushed and the girl runs off into the desert. Alejandro goes for the girl while Matt and the rest head back to base in Texas, but all is well as the ambush has made things more complicated than they should be and it’ll be that much harder for Matt and Alejandro to find a way to resolve this without stabbing each other, the US government, or anyone else, directly in the back. Can Alejandro not only find this girl but find a way to keep her safe from those who wish her harm? Just how far will Matt go for Alejandro, and will he be forced to choose between his friend and his duty? Wait, how are we supposed to be rooting for these guys now!? You SAW what they did in the last film, right!?
In all honesty, I’m probably way more conflicted about this movie then I should be because I GENUINELY believe this to be a sub par sequel for VERY obvious reasons, but somehow I can’t bring myself to have much righteous fury for it. A Movie about paramilitary (or at least unacknowledged) operatives acting outside the bounds of accountability that has JETTISONED it’s moral center for more scenes of said operatives being “bad ass”, and all I can muster is a MEH!? That doesn’t sound right! I guess I’ll give it points for more or less still FEELING like the first in terms of tone, aesthetic, and production (if not messaging and framing), and it’s conclusion is so underwhelming and muddled that it robs its message (no matter how wrong headed it may be) of any real bite. So instead of being a crass action focused sequel or a deplorably framed look at the drug war at possibly THE worst time to release it, it’s just an intermittently interesting hodgepodge of mediocre ideas that pales in comparison to the original. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I guess?
Right off the bat, this movie gives a repugnant first impression by stoking racist fears of people crossing the border (no successful terrorist act has been connected to someone who crossed the US/Mexico border illegally, but I guess dangerous falsehoods are what put butts in seats) and by showing Josh Brolin as a terrifying monster which, let’s be clear, is EXACTLY the kind of character people WANT to root for. The people his character will speak to the most are the kind of people who want nothing more than to project the kind of attitude that doesn’t say “Protector of freedom” or “Noble solider”, but “Don’t Fuck with me”; machismo of the most toxic kind, and it’s allowed to run rampant throughout this movie. This is why it was so important to have Emily Blunt be the point of view character and why her absence (with no one on hand to fill it) feels like an utter betrayal of what the original film was about. Now I’ll cop to the fact that I didn’t get what the original film was going for and resented it for trying to make me “feel bad” about the uber cool government(ish) agents kicking ass and taking names, but I HOPE that I’ve grown a bit since then and rewatching it now with that in mind it’s actually WAY better now that I fully grasp what they’re going for and just how irredeemable their actions were. Now sure, you can argue that the movie doesn’t need someone on screen constantly tut-tutting Josh Brolin to get across the fact that he’s THE BAD GUYTM, but the problem is that the filmmakers here BARELY care to make a case for that otherwise. Let’s make a direct comparison to the first film to prove the point; namely with the subplot that went from being the biggest drag for me into the defining moments of the film. Throughout the first one, we would periodically cut to this family and would eventually learn that the father is a corrupt cop working for the Cartel. During the climax where Benicio del Toro is kicking ass and taking names, he shoots the cop in the head in the course of completing his mission. Not even in self-defense! The guy did everything Benicio del Toro as asking him to, and he just killed him to presumably tie up loose ends. Not only that, the final moments of the film are given over to the family who lost their father and still have to find a way to keep going despite everything that’s happened to them as a direct result of Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin; showing us the cost of their actions that they have repeatedly said are necessary in their line of work. Now we can argue over the ethics of any one aspect of the drug war and what can be justified to stop a greater evil, but the first film made the effort to show the consequences (i.e. giving us a semblance of perspective on the “cool violence” we saw) while this film handily avoids it. One of the crucial characters in this movie doesn’t get an ending. There’s supposedly a drug war breaking out in Mexico, yet we never see it for even a second. The film is laser focused on Brolin and Benicio del Toro (and also one kid who eventually plays a part in the story though his story is clearly tertiary to everything else), and it just ends up losing sight of what the original message of the first film was. I’m not saying they have to make the SAME film each time, but it’d be nice if they didn’t contradict each other!
Thankfully things get better in the second act as we zero in on the mission itself, but it ends up feeling like a halfhearted imitator as this movie doesn’t feel nearly as REAL as the last one. Where we got to see cities and people to flesh out the setting of Juarez in the first movie, pretty much everything here is a dirty road. Need to drive somewhere? Dirt road. Need to find a place to stay? One house on a dirt road. Need somewhere for the Cartel operatives to meet? A warehouse that I’m pretty sure is next to a dirt road. Now the times where we DO get a city environment is things look much better and you start to think that this is a legit sequel to the first one, but for the most part this is workmanlike material that looks that much worse following the spectacular job Roger Deakins did previously. That’s not to say that parts of this movie aren’t really enjoyable as I’m a sucker for mission movies, and I like the way they break every step of this plan down (even if what they’re doing is pretty damn monstrous) which makes the second act quite a breeze to sit through and you kind of see what they could do with the franchise if they really DID want to take it in a more action oriented direction. It’s not nearly as nuanced and the story is much more straightforward, but you still get that sense of pitch black commentary and even humor about how the cops are just as dirty as those they claim to want to stop. Sadly this somewhat high point in the movie (nothing in the second act here matches any scene in the first one) quickly gives way to the third act which just kind of fizzles out into a mediocre slog.
The script in the first film was EXTREMELY tight and didn’t really waste any time on unnecessary subplots or pointless diversions. Even the stuff I complained about the first time I saw the movie are actually much more important than I originally gave them credit for (the bar scene is the only chance for Emily Blunt’s character to breath and stretch out in a way to endear us to her even more before sending her on the final mission) which is a far cry from what we get here. There’s just a lot of futzing about once Benicio del Toro and Isabela get separated from Brolin’s crew as we spend about half an hour waiting for at least one of them to DO something! Sure, we get a bit of characterization in these slower moments (even if we really don’t learn anything new about Benicio del Toro’s character), but to what end? With Emily Blunt’s character, we’re supposed to relate to her struggle as the audience POV. Are we all of a sudden supposed to be relating to the dude who we KNOW did some pretty evil stuff in the first film? Heck, he does some pretty evil stuff in this one too, but the movie wants to sell him as a new hero and for me it just didn’t work. By the time we get to THE CLIMAX, the whole narrative completely unravels and I was left with WAY too many questions at the end; mostly about what one character knew and if the more absurd moments in the last fifteen minutes were PLANNED or the most ridiculously convenient set of coincidences imaginable. By the end it feels like we’d barely accomplished anything which I guess helps it feel less bleak than the first film (and less inflammatory than it could have been given the first act), but I’d rather they’d have made a good movie instead of this half-baked, watered down, rubbish.
If prestige movies had a Direct to DVD pipeline, this would be their flagship title because like MOST sequels that bypass the theater, it’s at best a carbon copy of the original one with maybe half the creativity behind it. Now that’s not to say the movie is COMPLETELY worthless as even a halfway good Sicario knock off is still an okay movie, but it’s surprising that things fell off so drastically despite how many resources were on hand. Sure Roger Deakins and Denis Villeneuve aren’t back, but it has the latter’s blessing as well as the original screen writer (Taylor Sheridan) and a good chunk of the original cast. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it would have been EASY to make another movie in this series considering how well-crafted the original was, but you also shouldn’t step up to bat if you’re not ready to deliver. If you want a politically minded sequel to a pre-2016 action film, go watch The First Purge which is SO much better than this movie. Maybe it’ll be worth checking out once it gets a home release, but this is going to get overshadowed by the original film IMMEDIATELY if it hasn’t already. Get the blu ray of the first film if you still haven’t picked it up or watch it again if you already have it, and let this one gather dust on store shelves; at least until they drop it to five bucks or put it in a combo pack in preparation for the third movie.