After a suicide bombing in an American grocery store, the US government, for fear that more extremists are being trafficked over from Mexico by drug cartels, bring in CIA agent Matt Graver to start a war between the two largest gangs by kidnapping the young daughter of one of the leaders.
Sicario, the first one directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Emily Blunt, was a nail-biting thriller about Mexican drug cartels that actually delved deep into the inner workings of American foreign policy with equal parts mysterious, enticing and horrifying turns by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro that take us down the rabbit hole into a world full of dread, danger and double cross. When they announced a sequel, my expectations were set low. We have had sequels to smart movies missing the point entirely like the Jarhead sequels. Of course, when there is a sequel to a critically acclaimed film such as Sicario, comparison is almost inevitable. This is why the filmmakers have been very quick to say that this is a stand alone film. While the narrative may be stand-alone, by using the Sicario name and making it a saga means that it is fair game to be dismantled in the face of its far better older sibling.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first; Sicario 2: Soldado has a great cast. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, who reprise their roles from the first film, have a great time trying to out-gruff each other, while Catharine Keener and Matthew Modine excel as slimy Washington operators. The cinematography is beautiful as well. Dariusz Wolski, who shot all of Ridley Scott’s early 2010 movies has an excellent grasp of framing and contrast. Hidur Guonadottir, an Icelandic Cellist lends some ominous music, even if it is overused all the time.
However, just because the film looks and sounds good does not make it inherently good in and of itself. The main reason why Sicario 2 does not live up to the dramatic weight that the original Sicario had is because it misses the point of the original film. The first film was told from the perspective of Emily Blunt’s character, discovering the world of Brolin and Del Toro slowly she grounded the narrative and through her we saw the dark side of American foreign policy. Without a character to replace that we have a series of gruesome and tense set pieces that are strung together with a threadbare narrative.
So many events in the film happen without any real reason or explanation. A plan that the characters will be trying to execute one minute will be pulled without warning, character motivations will change on a dime and there are coincidences and errors in the narrative. Then you have the different threads of the story that involve the government, terrorism, cartels, Brolin and Del Toro, a young Mexican-American people trafficker and getting a drug baron’s daughter to the border; there is too much going on in the plot. Which leads to some of the issues mentioned previously. If this film weren’t a Sicario movie it would not need to be compared to the first film after all, but because Sicario 2: Saldado is a sequel it will be treated as such, and the comparisons are not flattering.
Finally, we have to talk about the politics of the film. It is clear that Sicario 2: Soldado has a fascination with the moral ambiguity of the CIA, but it does not have anything meaningful to say about it. Because Brolin and Del Toro are our leads the film almosts sides with their actions and condones what they do, be it torture, political coups or kidnapping. Similarly, it presents everyone not American as an enemy or potential enemy, whether that be a Muslim or Mexican, either that or they are sheep that can be easily lead by the machinations of the American government. In a time where the President is Donald Trump, who continually demands a border wall, travel bans and now removes children from their parents, now perhaps is not the best time to glorify the military actions at the US-Mexican border. Or if the film isn’t trying to do that, it is foolish not to follow through to make a comment about the Trump era paranoia. But Sicario 2 does nothing to combat it, leaving it ambiguous, but alas by doing that it leaves itself open to being taken up by those on the right advocating for the very actions presented in the film.
Sicario 2: Soldado still looks good and it still sounds good, but it doesn’t feel good. It is a film content in its style but has little to say about the world that it inhabits. The film is unaware of itself, stating the current definition of terrorism: “Any individual or group that uses violence to achieve political goal.” While it may make the comment, Sicario 2 does not explore it, leaving the film feeling half empty, all flash and no substance. While this does not make it bad as a whole, it means that the film is tone deaf and clumsy, you are better off just watching the first one.
You can watch Sicario 2: Soldado in cinemas now