SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO

Sicario was one of those types of films that kind of came out of nowhere and ended up being one of the best films of the year. It was also one of those films that told a complete story. Does that stop Hollywood, though? Never! So, here we are three years later with a sequel, with the only returning members being stars Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Sicario was one of those films that was a perfect combination of writing, direction, cinematography, and music that made it the fantastic film it was. Sequels made by different people are rarely successful, the keyword being “rarely”. 

In Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the U.S. government is still at war with the drug cartels, trying their best to keep immigrants and drugs from illegally coming across the border. The cartels are diversifying, though, specifically into human trafficking. This leads to a suicide bombing in the states, prompting the Secretary of State to bring on CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to further infiltrate the cartels and bring them down. The goal: kidnap a top drug lord’s daughter and blame it on the rivals, causing a war between the various gangs. In order to the complete the mission, Graver turns to his hitman ally Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who decides to help him out while getting further revenge on the people who killed his family. 

To me, a good sequel is a film that doesn’t just naturally follow the story of the original, but also captures the same spirit and tone. Although we have a mostly different crew of people here, this feels like a worthy successor to the original. It feels like a sequel in the vein of Aliens, where it’s much faster paced with a lot more brutal action. While the visual dream team of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins sadly didn’t return, their replacements Stefano Sollima and Dariusz Wolski still vividly bring Sheridan’s screenplay to life. It’s certainly not as beautiful to look at (you really can’t beat Deakins), but that same unsettling and tense atmosphere is still very present. There are a lot more gunfights, car chases, and explosions here, but the filmmakers take great care with preceding the action with fantastic suspense and tension. Imagine the suspense from the border crossing scene in the original, but it happens multiple times throughout. This is also accomplished by composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s moody score, that perfectly emulates her late collaborator Jóhann Jóhannson’s music from the first. All of these elements provided me with a constant sense of unease, worrying what terrible thing would happen next. 

This is an incredibly bleak film. Probably the bleakest I’ve seen in quite some time. This was surprising, especially since this is a big summer release from a major studio. The original was serious and pessimistic too, but it had some levity throughout, mostly from Brolin’s sarcasm and Emily Blunt’s and Daniel Kaluuya’s friendly banter. The first film also ended with a tiny sliver of hope, that the character’s achieving their goals could lead to the conflict being resolved. There is literally next to nothing here in terms of lightness here. It’s brutal, violent, and unforgiving. That’s exactly what Sheridan wants to portray, though. He wants to examine these darker aspects of American culture that don’t get explored enough in the entertainment world. With a lot of the sadistic and illegal stuff the CIA does in this movie, it makes it hard to root for any of these characters, but I’m not sure if we’re supposed to. It seems like Sheridan is just showing how he views the world as a grey, violent place where the “good guys” and “bad guys” can be one and the same. The action scenes were certainly exciting, but never empty, often making me question the morals surrounding everything. Seeing cars blow up is cool, but when it’s our government doing all of this illegally, how cool is it, really?

There’s a lot that Sheridan tries to tackle here with his script, both thematically and story wise, making it all feel a bit messy near the end. This could be due to Sollima’s alleged rewrite of a large portion of the screenplay, making the story go in a much different direction. I was surprised by the many twists in the story, but it really started to drag near the end. The direction they took still satisfied me, though, exploring Alejandro’s character a lot more here. His humanity is more fleshed out, but he’s still the broken, hollow shell of a man he used to be. While he’s out to get his revenge, it’s a revenge that he views as the greater good for all. Graver is very much the same, not caring about morals, as long as he gets the job done and protects his country. I wish he was a bit more sarcastic in this one, though, as that was a big aspect of his character before. Brolin and del Toro are both awesome, as always, with del Toro really getting to flex his chops in a whole variety of ways that shows the depth of his abilities and his character. It feels like a character only he could play. He spends most of the film opposite Isabella Moner, playing the daughter of a drug lord. She’s equally as excellent, holding her own against del Toro, giving him a great character to play off of. 

When it comes to sequels made by different teams, you’re usually going to get one of the two things: a completely different vision than the original, or a cheap imitation to try to capture that same spirit. Sicario: Day of the Soldado kind of teeters between the two. It totally feels like the first film in terms of aesthetic, tone, and social commentary, all while also telling its own story with more emphasis on action and cynical nihilism. Just like the original, there’s no need for a follow up to this, but if they do so, and if Sheridan decides to return, I won’t complain. It’s nice having solid action-like thrillers with a story, but it’s even better when they actually mean something. 

8.5/10

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