Hot Take: It starts off strong but fizzles. The second half loses its footing. There’s also an incoherent xenophobic vibe the film gives off that’s hard to shake. Plus, that shadow of the original is impossible to escape. Even with all that, it’s still not terrible thanks to compelling performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado sets the tone early. The sequel to 2015’s Sicario opens with a brutal, graphic suicide bombing in a Kansas City grocery store. It sets the tone for a grim follow up to an already dark original. While the film retained writer Taylor Sheridan, the sequel moved from director Denis Villeneuve to Stefano Sollima who makes his English language feature film debut. The film mimics many of the aspects of the original and brings back Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro who reprise their roles from the first film. Gone is Emily Blunt. The decision to not include her character in the follow up has met with great criticism and the film lacks a conscious that her character obviously brought to the original. The result is a film with uneven timing and a penchant to build to something that essentially turns out to be a set-up for a third installment to the Sicario story. That maneuver makes the sequel feel disingenuous and spoils what could have been a great follow up and results in what’s only a slightly above adequate movie.
After the suicide bombing, the U.S. Department of Defense turns to CIA operative Matt Graver (Brolin) to come up with a plan to take the war to the Mexican drug cartels after it is suspected that they helped transport the Islamic terrorists across the border through Mexico. Graver enlists the help of black operative Alejandro Gillick (del Toro) to kidnap the daughter (Isabela Moner) of a drug kingpin to start a war between the two major Mexican drug cartels. The film also follows a seemingly unconnected sub-plot of Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a young Mexican American coyote, coming up through the ranks as a guide for the human trafficking side of the drug cartel’s business.
While this isn’t Sheridan’s best work, the screenwriter, even at his least effective, provides another watchable script. Sollima is no Villeneuve but the directorial work is solid, too. And that’s likely the rub of Sicario: Day of the Soldado. There was no way it could escape the shadow of the original. Maybe if the film brought back Blunt to reprise her role, the film would have had a remote chance at a successful follow up.
Films written by Sheridan have managed to make the Top 10 at Movie Hot Take for three consecutive years. In 2015, Sicario started the run when it landed at #9. Sheridan followed that up with Hell or High Water (at #3) in 2016 and Wind River (at #4) in 2017. It won’t be Sicario: Day of the Soldado that will continue that trend as Sheridan’s follow up is not as effective as the original and fails to deliver a completely effective film. There are parts that are enthralling but the film falls well short of Sheridan’s previous recent work. What’s more maddening is the effort is strong enough to still have at least this viewer hooked for the third chapter of the Sicario tale. The lukewarm box office results might keep the film from getting that third chapter but the script left the door open for a trilogy. Until then, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a decent but slightly disappointing follow up to one of the best films of 2015.
Sicario made your top films of 2015 list, too.
Don’t we get enough xenophobic subtext from the national news cycle?