In 2015, the action/drama Sicario, about an FBI agent assigned to a special task force whose mission was to go after the head of a Mexican drug cartel, surprised people with its dark, violent, shades of gray take on the war on drugs. It was nominated for three Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Sound Design) and was highly critically acclaimed. It did not exactly scream out for a sequel, as its story was relatively self-contained. It seemed to say everything it needed to about its subject. Yet three years later here is the awkwardly titled Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which keeps the tone and style of the original, but loses the impact of the grim message of its predecessor. It is still a solid action movie, though it does not stand out like Sicario did.
The first one centered on Emily Blunt’s agent Kate Macer, who acted as the moral compass in a world where flexible morals are required to survive. She butted heads with the task force’s leader, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), and his mysterious partner, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). All three actors were very good, but the most praise was heaped on Del Toro for his impressively complex performance. Blunt does not return as the screenplay shifts its focus to Alejandro. This is fine since Del Toro is a great actor and he delivers once again in the role. However, it also makes him the de facto hero, which becomes problematic and fails to properly take advantage of his story arc from the original.
This time, Graver and Alejandro are on a mission to start a war between Mexican drug cartels. They kidnap the sixteen year-old daughter of a cartel head and frame his rivals. Soon, things go wrong and Alejandro is on the run with the girl in Mexico. That plot does not totally work and forces the character to take a turn that was not completely believable. In the first movie, he was on a quest. Here, his motivations are a little less defined (in Spanish, “Sicario” means hitman, while “Soldado” means soldier). Unfortunately, it follows a very impactful film with a sequel that is equally violent, but lacks the same purposefulness.
Word is the screenwriter of both films, Taylor Sheridan, always thought of Sicario as a trilogy. Perhaps a third chapter will clarify the events depicted in Day of the Soldado in a way that strengthens its connection to the first film. As it is, its plot, touching on the immigration issue and the way the cartels recruit children, is topical without really saying much about those topics.
Sicario was an excellent film, regardless of genre. Day of the Soldado is a pretty good action movie. While it feels like a bit of a waste of the fascinating characters introduced in the original, that does not make it bad. Just a bit of a letdown. Looked at separate from the context of being a sequel, it is an effective, dark, twisty, action movie. The supporting cast does notable work (Josh Brolin continues to be one of the most reliable actors around, Jeffrey Donovan made me want to see more of him as another member of their team and the always welcome Catherine Keener is intriguing, but ultimately underutilized, as their boss), as are the intense battle scenes. The first one stood out by being something different. This one sets itself apart from its competitors by doing things you have seen before, but doing them well.
3¼ out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews
Read Ben’s last movie review on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.