Sicario: Day of the Soldado, 2018.
Directed by Stefano Sollima.
Starring Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Isabela Moner, Jeffery Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, Howard Ferguson Jr., David Castañeda, Jacqueline Torres, Raoul Max Trujillo, Jake Picking, Dan Davidson, Faysal Ahmed, Graham Beckel, Sherman Allen, and Bruno Bichir.
The drug war on the US-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.
Sicario is one of the most unexpected and questionable films to transition into a full-blown Hollywood blockbuster franchise, and after having seen Sicario: Day of the Soldado (once again written by Taylor Sheridan but now with Stefano Sollima stepping in for the irreplaceable Denis Villeneuve, among other critical changes in the production department that absolutely are a step backwards in quality), it’s further evidence that it should have been one and done. That’s not to say that Day of the Soldado is a terrible waste of space and time, but it’s not the uncomfortably thought-provoking, scintillating flat-out masterpiece Sicario still holds up as on rewatches.
Instead, this is the “no rules”, boys only club (Emily Blunt’s presence is sorely missed as the voice of reason consumed with doing whatever felt morally correct and most humane, even if admittedly the narrative doesn’t really have room or a purpose for her to return), firearms and drones, gung-ho, action-oriented flick that it seems most moviegoers that watched Sicario expected, and more frustratingly important, wanted. Taylor Sheridan (and new distributor Sony) know that, especially in this day and age, there is a lot of money to be made by playing to what the general cinema-going public craves, coupled with the fact that both of these stories explore highly topical subjects.
The gist of the plot is that Matt and Alejandro (Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro back in their respective roles) once again are looking to kick the hornet’s nest, this time pitting key cartel factions (that now center their illegal activities on human trafficking across the border rather than drugs) against one another by playing the field and kidnapping Isabel (Isabela Moner), the teenage daughter of top target Carlos Reyes, and while Sheridan wrote the script over a year ago unable to predict what the current political landscape would look like, witnessing her plucked away from her family resembles the horrors going on at the real border, even if Mr. Reyes is a career criminal that deserves no mercy. She’s the one suffering the consequences simply for the actions of her father, but shouldn’t the American operatives seek a way to achieve positive results without resorting to such ugliness? It’s a tough question.
There is also added urgency from a terrorist bombing acted out by an illegal immigrant, but it feels like an afterthought and doesn’t really contribute to the narrative as a whole in any meaningful way outside of putting things in motion. Furthermore, that is some disturbing and, once again, highly relevant subject material to include, that probably deserves more time attributed to the subplot rather than a brief investigation culminating with torture on the Somalian that possibly assisted the mentally ill individual. Either way, Day of the Soldado isn’t really concerned with exploring any of the controversial topics the script presents; it’s all simply there to get various groups shooting at one another, which is far less intense and exciting without cinematography from Roger Deakins.
The other glaring issue with Day of the Soldado is that some of what is here, including a few supporting characters, is inserted exclusively to further future proof Sicario as an expanding franchise. Unfortunately, none of these people are very interesting, and even Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro have stale arcs; the dynamic that Alejandro is placed into conflicted positioning regarding protecting Isabel, the daughter of the cartel kingpin that ordered the hit on his family, is intriguing but the execution is off. It seems as if Alejandro encounters a deaf traveler only so the narrative can drip feed information about the first film to moviegoers going into the sequel blind, in addition to being a lame attempt at pulling on the heartstrings.
With that said, Day of the Soldado does heat up towards the end, surprisingly creating palpable danger for its two stars. Unfortunately, the narrative is unable to commit to a very specific event, and while I acknowledge that this could actually happen in real life, parts of it also become far-fetched blurring the line between completely badass and unacceptably stupid. Of all the moments of spectacle in this sequel, it’s the most appropriate segment that showcases just how much of a different film tonally Day of the Soldado is from his predecessor. On the surface, it still Sicario, but this time it’s for an audience that prefers not to ponder challenging material.
However, the direction is serviceable, the action has its ups and downs, and the performances across the board are great (Isabela Moner sells her distress and trauma like an established veteran actor, while Del Toro and Brolin continue to strike fear with their intimidating body language and marksman accuracy), and although the film never says anything of merit (also, that doesn’t mean I’m expecting Taylor Sheridan’s script to have all the answers, but it should leave me with something substantial to get a dialogue going on) its fearless approach to sensitive topics is appreciated. And let’s be real, how can you not enjoy watching Benicio Del Toro one-handedly rapid fire an entire clip into one person with posture and killer instinct that would make even Rambo wet himself?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com