Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Although a great movie that was also critically acclaimed, the original Sicario film released in 2015 was not much of a box-office success, nor did it fit the bill of a franchise film. Nevertheless, in 2018 we are treated to Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the second chapter in a planned trilogy. Gone is Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer from the first film, who acted as an audience surrogate to introduce us into the violent and messy conflict along the U.S.-Mexico border. There is no handholding for the audience this time around as the movie throws us directly into the conflict.
Following a terrorist attack in America’s heartland, Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver is brought back to the border where it is believed that the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the border. Teaming back up with Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, Graver decides that the best course of action is to create a war between two competing cartels. They do so by first killing a high-ranking member of one and then kidnapping the daughter of another cartel’s leader, making it look as if it were retribution. Meanwhile, a young Texas boy named Miguel is lured into the world of the cartel by the promise of power and money. He is first recruited as a guide leading immigrants safely across the border, but his responsibilities quickly and violently escalate.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a compelling sequel, but it lacks the polish and assured direction of the original. This is not a surprise, considering aside from Brolin, Del Toro, and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, few of the major players from the original film have returned. Aside from the aforementioned Blunt, the sequel is also missing the late composer Johann Johannsson, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and director Denis Villeneuve, who was busy with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Director Stefano Sollima and company do a good enough job, but the sequel definitely lacks the “wow!” factor that the original had in spades. The film tries valiantly to recreate the magic. This is most apparent in another solid military-vehicles-driving-in-a-single-file-line-through-Mexico sequence, which is fine, but the ending lacks the punch of the bridge sequence from the first film.
The storyline is fairly disjointed and culminates in an ending that is underwhelming. The movie feels like it is setting up some plot points early on that are never quite fully fleshed out; or at least, not in a satisfactory way. And at one point when I thought the movie was going in an interesting direction and was waiting for answers to some of my questions—how will he get back over the border? What will happen when these two characters confront each other?—the movie simply skips ahead with a “one year later” tag. I also did not really buy into Miguel’s storyline. His descent from average Texas teenager to the person he is by the end of the film is something I have no doubt happens all the time, but it felt a little too simplistic as it is presented in the movie. And the surprising final confrontation he has with Alejandro might have been better served had it been given to Isabel, the kidnapped daughter of the drug lord who bonded with Del Toro’s character.
Benicio Del Toro is the highlight of the film. He is given more of a chance to develop a character that was intentionally left to be something of a mystery in the original film, and he runs with it. His scenes with Isabel are the film’s best character moments, but he still gets some signature tough-guy moments, too, such as when he absolutely obliterates a target. Josh Brolin is also very good, but his character is pretty much the same one we saw in the first film throughout this one, just given a little more screentime. He and Jeffrey Donovan also provide some of the film’s few moments of levity.
Dealing with U.S. and Mexico border relations, Sicario: Day of the Soldado seemed to be in the perfect position to tackle some real-life issues in its storyline, and while it does so to a certain extent it is definitely more action thriller than political statement. It is entertaining throughout and has a few scenes that successfully raise the tension level, but it never quite reaches the peaks of the original film and its ending left me with a disappointed feeling as the credits rolled. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has created an interesting cinematic environment, however, and so I do still look forward to see where they take this franchise next.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.