The first Sicario was a triumph of thrilling tension and grounded action focused on the government and cartel conflicts taking place on the border between Mexico and Texas. It didn't exactly scream "franchise starter," but unnecessary as it may be, Sicario: Day of the Soldado (don't call it Sicario 2) proves to be a worthy follow-up.
Like the original, not-Sicario-2 stars Josh Brolin as CIA operative Matt Graver and Benicio Del Toro as the mysterious Alejandro, a former lawyer with a vendetta against the cartels. Unlike Sicario 1, it has no Emily Blunt, who in the first movie served as an audience proxy. She spent the entire film perpetually two steps behind the other characters, deliberately kept in the dark to maintain her deniability. From a practical standpoint, it had the effect of keeping viewers guessing, since we only knew as much as the protagonist, and she knew absolutely nothing. And it helped us identify with her.
It was an extremely neat trick, but Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn't try to repeat it. Instead, it plays Del Toro and Brolin's considerable talents against one another. And it works really well.
Soldado once again sees Graver hiring Alejandro for a clandestine job that, like both characters, exists outside the bounds of law, morality, and international diplomacy. In the worldview these movies espouse, it's impossible to deal with organizations as ruthless, violent, and powerful as the cartels unless you throw all the rules away. Case in point: When terrorists attack a toy store in middle America, Brolin's character doesn't hesitate to coerce information from a source by calling in air strikes that take out his family members. The movie doesn't necessarily pass judgment on acts like this, although it does eventually show the toll they might take.
And it turns out even characters as seemingly merciless as Graves and Alejandro have limits. The new job evolves into destabilizing multiple Mexican cartels by kidnapping one leader's daughter and implicating a rival organization. When the job goes south, Alejandro winds up on his own, forced to protect the young girl, played with an impressive mix of defiance and vulnerability by Transformers: The Last Knight's Isabela Moner.
If you've seen the original Sicario, you'll know that the deadly Alejandro has no qualms about cold-blooded murdering women, children, and anyone else whose death furthers his revenge. His struggle to protect a girl who part of him wants to kill is Soldado's main dramatic conflict, and it transforms Alejandro into a sympathetic--if not exactly likable--character. It more than makes up for Blunt's absence.
Although he falls on the other side from Alejandro, Brolin's character struggles too. Seeing the two of them play against one another while dealing with their own distinct external conflicts is thrilling.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is just as violent, tense, and relevant as the original. Without the masterful talents of Denis Villeneuve directing and Roger Deakins on cinematography, it does look and feel a little less special than the original. But director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski do a more than adequate job shaping this sequel in the original's style and form, and you'll easily become engrossed in the movie and stop thinking about who directed what. Besides, writer Taylor Sheridan is responsible for both scripts, so narratively and thematically, Soldado feels perfectly consistent.
With a gripping climax that focuses on the danger faced by migrants as they risk everything to cross the border, Sicario: Day of the Soldado couldn't possibly feel more relevant. A b-plot involves a Mexican-American teenager recruited into Cartel service by his sleazy cousin; by the end, not unlike in the first movie, you won't even know who to root for anymore, much less who to trust. Soldado is well written, well acted, tense, topical, and complex, and in every way a worthy follow-up to Sicario--even if it wasn't needed to begin with.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Well acted all around||Feels slightly unnecessary|
|Gripping and tense as the original|
|As topical as can be|
|Complex themes will make you think|