ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” may not have the skillful and artistic style of director Denis Villeneuve, but it does prove to be a worthy sequel that offers a continuation of the same solid characters, writing, and intensity present in the first film, with what arguably might be a richer plot.
Image Source: MGN
Following a horrific suicide bombing in Kansas City, the U.S. government concludes that these bombers are making their way into the country with the aid of Mexican Cartels through their movement of illegal migrants. This brings CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Sicario Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) together once again, this time for a false flag operation to create a war between the two biggest cartels in Mexico. The key to which involves the kidnapping of Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), daughter of the biggest jefe of the two.
The first film told a simple one-and-done story that certainly left the playing field open, but didn’t really beg for the need to continue things with a sequel. Still, the plot to the first was admittedly bare bones once you remove the framing device of Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) trying to put the narrative puzzle together just as much as the audience was. In the end (spoilers), it was just about off the book CIA agent Graver trying to find a tunnel to sneak vengeful Alejandro into Mexico and kill a cartel leader. “Soldado” takes things to a new level. Now, the goal is to start a war between the biggest Mexican cartels and watch them tear each other apart. The film doesn’t really show off any of this war sadly but the process of watching characters attempt this act is highly entertaining and equally concerning as this all feels real to life. The biggest takeaway from the plot is the characters using a teenage girl as the focal point to start the conflict. In one of the opening scenes, the film proves it is not afraid to put innocent kids face to face with death. (Of course, they made this point as blunt as possible with the end of the first film). Therefore, the stage of tension is set for “anything goes”.
Del Toro and Brolin are once again excellent and are able to continue their characters effortlessly. Alejandro doesn’t have any real mystery to him this time around, but the sorrow of his character is still there. Here, the filmmakers attempt to explore more of the moral compass for both Alejandro and Matt. Alejandro feels the need to be protective of the Cartel daughter in the hopes of sparing her the same darkness that has consumed him due to the war on drugs. This is similar to that of Kate from the first entry. She reminded him of his idealistic self prior to the murder of his family. The Cartel daughter no doubt reminds him of his own child from years past. Matt also gets in some more depth by showing deeper frustration with his government that fails to recognize the strength necessary to combat the violence on and around the U.S./Mexico border. This frustration is further pushed when his superiors bash on him for doing the very thing that they, in fact, wanted him to do: "dramatically overreact." Progress is not a good thing if it’s at the expense of one’s image. That’s all bureaucracy seems to care about. Matt also shows that he sees Alejandro as more than just the “bird dog” expendable that he may claim him to be. Deep down, he understands the man and sees him as an equal. Everyone else does great, but this is their show.
Intensity is the name of the game in the Sicario world. It is not just that it is violent. It’s the fact that this all feels like reality. It’s the fact that things like this very well may be occurring at this very moment. The film, like the first, is brutal to a pulp and feels zero need to hold an ounce of this back. Some of it could be hard to stomach, but it is brutality with a purpose. That purpose being a warning of what the world of illegal drug and human trafficking can bring upon the innocent, particularly our kids. It’s hard to call the action in this film “action”. Honestly, there are no action scenes...just hold-no-bars violence.
The only issues here are in the changes in style and the sequel-baiting. Director Denis Villeneuve, Cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Composer Johann Johannsson are gone (the latter sadly having passed away back in February. RIP because he was a growing talent). Their absence is notable. However, their replacements all do a good job for sure. New director Stefano Sollima crafts a solid vision for the story, even if it is not as distinctive. He favors being more narrative focused rather than using the visual medium to express itself, but there is nothing wrong with that approach when strong writing is at the heart. Thanks to the return of writer Taylor Sheridan, that is certainly the case with “Soldado”. Dariusz Wolski is an excellent shooter who has done all of Ridley Scott’s recent films, so while he is currently looking through a different lens, he brings a great look to the picture in his own unique way. Hildur Guonadottir’s score doesn’t have the same effect as the first film, which stuck in my mind long after viewing it. Here, the best part is honestly when they just reuse Johann’s score from the first film at the end. Hildur’s score is fine, but not as notable. Finally, there is the sequel-baiting. Now, I really do want a sequel. I just worry that in the event that we don’t get one...we will have plot threads that will never be resolved. Here’s hoping audiences can show interest and give the movie some bank. This film does leave MUCH unresolved.
With that in mind, please go see this film. It certainly isn’t as good as the first, but I consider that basically a perfect film. Like “The Dark Knight”, it is kind of hard to match, let alone outdo. So, just like “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Soldado” is a different beast, but still a great one in its own right.