In a world full of sequels, be like this one. Attentive to its origins, creative in story and eager to highlight the progression of the characters, not mute their colors. Sequels like this don’t come along too often. When they do, praise them. See them in theaters. Call them by their name - that works here, right?
Sequels, the bread and butter of the film industry these days, are often disposable. This one is an anomaly. In a word, this sequel is badass.
We’re taken back into the world of sicarios, the Spanish word for ‘hitman’. It’s gotten even nastier since the first film premiered in 2015. Relations with Mexico are running thin, and Americans are eager to shut down the border for all the reported evils it allows to cross. This world is a sticky place, and who should you call to clean a mess? Why, CIA operative Matt Graver of course!
Yemen terrorists have bombed a grocery store on U.S. soil, and their route into the country, it’s discovered, was through Mexico. Mission set on taking out the cartel that gave them safe passage across the border by tearing it apart from within, Graver (Josh Brolin) compiles an off-the-books team of black ops experts and his greatest weapon to date: sicario Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).
The plan is to kidnap the daughter (Isabela Moner) of the cartel’s head honcho, staging it to appear like it was a rival. Kill the snakes at their own game, in their own country, by their own people. But when you kill a snake at the neck, three more often grow in its place. A series of snags and diversions leave Alejandro safeguarding the cartel princess and transporting her to America where they can guarantee her safety.
If there is one thing this film does, it solidifies Taylor Sheridan as a writer of work I refuse to miss. Not only is he critically acclaimed - having been nominated for an Academy Award - but he’s also a box office ham, appealing above all to the average moviegoer. His most recent work is equal parts story, dialogue and action, culminating in a fast-paced, gritty thriller written with distinct interest in how it plays on the screen, not just on the page.
This installment does not disappoint. As talented and mesmerizing as she is in everything she does, we don’t miss Emily Blunt’s skittish and timorous character this time around. Our new female lead, 17-year-old Moner, is appealing and magnetic as Isabel, a rabid teen lost in the dark shadow of her father’s wicked notoriety.
And Benicio, Benicio, Benicio. I could watch him all day. He reprises the role of Alejandro, a tormented assassin with laser focus on avenging the murder of his family. Humorous in parts and on the edge of madness in others, there is no bottom in his well of talent.
Of course "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" has its flaws, too. Like the fact that in their haste to save the girl and all the complications that come with it they get severely sidetracked from their mission, a weakness in storytelling, surely, but far from a major point of contention. The path it leads them on is enthralling, and, as the viewer, I am captivated by the detour and willing to overlook the small inconsistencies.
This volume in the Sicario saga doesn’t have the same epic, drawn-out confrontation like the first film did, and with Stefano Sollima as the new director at its helm, the visual beauty of the first is replaced with quicker cuts and faster stunts. Gone is the lingering footage of soldiers disappearing in the desert horizon or the aerial shot of the long chain of black SUVs slinking down the highway. Gorgeous stuff, but that’s why streaming rental was invented.
This one does, however, offer more laughs than the first - genuine laughs, not the kind that comes with “it’s so terrible, it’s funny” action films - thanks mainly to Sheridan’s script. And there is still plenty of shooting and blood, if that’s what you’re into.
What strikes me the most about this installment is that, for a film that falls second in what is anticipated to be a trilogy, it still manages to hold a candle, if not a small votive, to the original. Oftentimes the second film is merely a vessel to set up the third. This is hardly the case. You may, and should, like this film in its own right, without drawing comparisons to its predecessor...because the first film was great and impossible to one-up.
Day of the Soldado is doing its own thing, in its own way. You better believe I’ll be back for round three to see where Sheridan takes his sicarios next.