Probably the most unlikely sequel to ever be made, but Sicario 2 was a decent, albeit harrowing, experience.
Responding to suicide bombers crossing into America, the United States plots to destroy the human-trafficking Mexican Cartels that are rife across the US Mexico border. Their plan: to turn the cartels against each other.
2015’s Sicario, directed by Blade Runner 2049‘s Denis Villeneuve, is not the sort of movie you would expect a sequel to, let alone two sequels. A gritty, bleak and – while beautifully shot by Villeneuve – more than a little depressing. But the writer behind the 2015 film, Taylor Sheridan, has written this new sequel and a third entry is planned, so there must be a story worth telling…
Most audiences attending Sicario 2: Soldado are probably driven by this curiosity, and most certainly need prior knowledge of the previous film going in. If the Sicario films are confirmed to be anything at this stage, they are quiet and moody, and don’t spell out what is happening.
Which is probably one of the strengths the franchise has, and made the first film a success with critics. Almost like a modern western; the Sicario films are full of desolate landscapes, skirmishes and steely stares. Returning lead actors Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are perfect for these films, each bringing truckloads of presence with a minimal script.
Soldado is still just as bleak and hard-edged as the first film, and while its predecessor was set in the Middle East (colliding with current affairs at the time) its sequel is now decided to frame its story around Mexico, the US Mexico border, illegal immigrants, and suicide bombings in America. You know… a large portion of the controversial US politics of today. This makes the film’s opening almost hard to watch at times… with people attempting to sneak over the border juxtaposed with suicide bombers murdering families. All filmed with as few edits as possible to show how graphic this form of terrorism can be. This is also used to validate what our “heroes” (used in the loosest sense, because every action they make is overwhelmingly immoral in some way) do to combat these attacks. By disguising themselves as cartel gang members, Brolin, Del Toro and others attack the other factions, as well as kidnap the young daughter of the most powerful cartel leader… someone who Del Toro’s Alejandro has ties to…
Most of the film is from Alejandro’s perspective, easily the most empowered character from the first film. There is no sign of Emily Blunt’s character, Kate Macer, although one could say her character had been purely an audience surrogate in the 2015 film and little more.
While Denis Villeneuve did not return for this film, Italian film director Stefano Sollima took over and, while never reaching the mastery Villeneuve has behind a camera, did a good job capturing the tone and severity of the first film. Del Toro and Brolin exude a darkness and a ruthless practicality with their performances, learned from the first film. Isabela Moner plays the young girl who is kidnapped, Isabel (you might recognise her from Transformers: The Last Knight) who despite not having much big screen experience, did extremely well here with some intense acting required.
But once again, and perhaps this is simply personal preference showing itself, the quite directionless story didn’t feel particularly warranted. Perhaps the point is that there is no sense in starting wars. But it is noticeable within the third act that the film doesn’t prioritise certain story elements, in favour of plot conveniences. When certain events occur that cause a paradigm shift with our characters, it doesn’t feel like the setup for such a shift was given enough time, or the exposition for the shift itself was underplayed.
But if you enjoyed the first Sicario, I imagine you will find a lot of enjoy here. Although “enjoy” might be the wrong word. Del Toro and Brolin are the reasons to watch, and despite Villeneuve’s absence it still mounts tension very well; you definitely feel uncomfortable while watching, and not just because of the politically-fuelled subtexts. Much like the first film, this isn’t for the faint-of-heart.
It was a thrilling, urban war fiction for sure with some great minimalist story-telling and subtle acting. Not sure about its intentions within its characters and its subtext though… Its unforgiving grimness would turn a lot of people away.