Director: Stefano Sollima
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener
Runtime: 122 Minutes
How would one even go about making a sequel to Sicario? The 2015 Denis Villeneuve project penned by then first-time writer Taylor Sheridan felt like something unique in the spectrum of dark and politically charged thrillers in its depiction of tensions surrounding American exercises across the Mexican border. A deeply nihilistic and overwhelmingly well-constructed effort that took a material established of themes and ideas and made them feel fresh through the will of its cast and crew.
But it also felt contained, and more or less satisfactory in its depiction of the never-ending feud of interests churned up by the likes of Josh Brolin’s CIA SAD officer Matt Graver and del Toro’s titular hitman Alejandro Gillick in an effort to disrupt and centralise the influence of the cartels.
So, choosing to centre this hurriedly greenlit sequel on the Brolin and del Toro characters, dropping most narrative connection to the original – including leading star Emily Blunt – and having another story taking place in the same universe makes a certain amount of sense as a sort of continuation. The sad fact turns out to be that its very association makes the baffling failures of it so much harder to stomach.
The actual plot devised for Sicario 2: Soldado (or Sicario: Day of the Soldado in other territories for some reason) feels like the paranoid ramblings of a right-wing fever dream. In which the Mexican drug cartels are collaborating with Somali pirates to smuggle ISIS suicide bombers into the United States among trafficked migrant workers… really.
Not only is the initial premise absurd enough, it doesn’t even hold up as the story it eventually takes on concerns Gillick and Graver being hired to covertly kidnap the daughter of a Cartel head to insight a war between the fractions. Hitches and betrayals later it ends up boiling down to a generic redemption arc story in which Gallick forms a bond with the kidnapped Isabela (Isabela Moner) and chooses to sort things out his own way.
It’s a formulaic and clichéd as it sounds, but had the film tried to elevate it through its presentation or writing it might have made for a lesser but engaging follow-up. Unfortunately, neither apply here.
Director Stefano Sollima shoots the whole thing like any other urban crime film, just with the locals changed, and the action scenes are uniformly average at best which is strange considering that it's been sold as the more action-heavy version of the first film. While constantly comparing it to its predecessor does it no favours anyway, it lacks any of the foreboding menace or intensity to its murky handlings, and even they come across as confoundingly simple and stupid with a clearer draw of heroes and villains.
But the biggest disappointment is that this comes to us again from writer Taylor Sheridan, who has forged a place in recent years for engaging in strong, gloomy stories that cautiously deconstruct the mythological depictions of race relations in modern America. Despite the film emulating the original at points without seeming to understand the components of why it worked, there doesn’t even feel like there’s an overriding point being made beyond vague button pressing topics of the moment – and handled in this way they just come across at best incredibly tone-deaf and at worst alarmingly reactionary.
It extends to his writing of characters as well. Most of the returning characters feel ridged and confused despite the otherwise solid performances given by del Toro and Brolin, who at least get to swagger about infrequently with hardened nerve. But the film misses Blunt as the audience POV and severely lacks any kind of supplementary figure, let alone a female voice as Catherine Keener is unused and the young Isabela Moner gives her all to a very thankless role and character.
Everything about Sicario 2: Soldado stinks of a foul odour of misjudgement and a genuine lack of energy or enthusiasm. Wasting the talents of the cast, and settling for something so generically played and narratively safe that it makes it comes dangerously close to tarnishing the legacy of its otherwise brilliant predecessor.