Despite the overwhelming sense that a sequel to the original Sicario didn’t need to happen, I had a small shard of hope for Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The advertising promises a much more action-packed cops and robbers type blockbuster compared to the slow-burn drama of the original. An Aliens to the original’s Alien, if you will, and I was intrigued by that idea. I can’t remember the last time I saw an action set in the turbulent world of cartels and tense border politics. I had confidence that this could be interesting.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado once again follows CIA agent Matt (Josh Brolin) and recluse Mexican black-ops soldier Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro). They have been permitted by the US government to use extreme measures to combat Mexican drug cartels. Specifically, a cartel suspected of smuggling Muslim terrorists into the States. They decide to start a war amongst the different cartels. Hopefully, so they’ll wipe themselves out without overt involvement from the US government. To this end, they kidnap Isabel, the daughter of a cartel boss (Isabela Moner). However, after their Mexican police escort betrays them, Isabel manages to escape. It’s up to Gillick to find her and bring her across the border.
The film’s first issue is that the setup takes too long. You’d think that Gillick transporting and protecting Isabel would be the driving narrative of the film and comprise a majority of the second act. However, it only takes up the back half the runtime and the first hour of the movie is providing a setup to contrive the plot. The film has poor pacing in general due to no definite beginning, middle, and end. There’s no overarching goal until halfway through for any of the characters. Also, there’s no real climax; the film just abruptly finishes with the worst sequel setup I’ve seen since The Force Awakens.
The absence of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macy from the previous film is an unexpected drawback to the story’s quality. In the first film, Macy was the moral center. She was the character of conscience the audience could identify within a world of moral compromise and shades of grey. Without her presence in the plot, the only people left to root for is a group of morally degenerate people. In turn, this gives us less reason to become invested in the story.
The comparing of Sicario: Day of the Soldado to the first Sicario will be the biggest hurdle. The first film became so special because every element seemed to compliment each other exceptionally well. Roger Deakins’ realistic lighting, the slow-burn direction from Villeneuve and stone cold acting solidified to form a film of seamless technical wizardry. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, however, has neither Villeneuve or Deakins and thus lacks a lot of what made the first film have such an impact. The bland cinematography and uneven direction make a story that should feel grittier and bigger in scope but feel smaller and less shocking.
On a more positive note, it’s very refreshing to see a film with a completely different view on immigration. A lot of other movies would show how the poor, innocent Mexicans are needlessly kept out of the country by the evil, white border patrol. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, on the other hand, changes that. It makes the argument that the US’ loose border policies hurt the Mexican people as a whole. Through the eyes of a newly inducted coyote, we see how the cartel makes thousands of dollars shipping the desperate over the border. He gives them a useful tool with which to bring more youth into the gang.
By the end, we see that the young coyote is no longer a loving son just trying to help his mother with the expenses. Now, he’s a calloused member of the cartel, reveling in the gangster lifestyle. Thus, the cycle continues. There’s even a slam at Americans who help people cross the border. By the time you see the smiling white lady ready to drive some immigrants across the border, you resent her. The audience by this point has been made very clear that she’s helping a cartel racket. She is part of the system that exploits the poor and increases the wealth and power of evil men.
The acting continues to deliver. While the absence of Emily Blunt is a notable loss to the cast, Brolin and Del Toro still pull their weight and provide solid performances. The new additions of Isabela Moner and Elijah Rodriguez are welcome, and they do good work slipping into their characters.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado Final Thoughts:
With a better director, Sicario: Day of the Soldado could’ve been on par with the original. It has the same characters, writing and potential for tense set-ups capped off by explosions of violence. In the hands of a much less talented director, however, it feels more like Sicario leftovers than a proper continuation of the story. It’s worth a watch since it’s brutal and different. At least compared to many other dramas likely to come out this year. However, Sicario: Day of the Soldado still fails as a worthy sequel to its predecessor and even fails as a cohesive experience in its own right. Still good, but the disappointing thing is that it could’ve been great.