Reviewed by Wyndham Hacket Pain
Aliens was famously released with the tagline: This time it’s war. The same line could easily be used to describe Sicario 2: Soldado. Where the original concerned itself with a single drug cartel, the sequel imagines everything on a larger scale. For the franchise’s second outing the objective is to only not undermine the Mexican drug cartels but to have them raging war against each other.
Following a terrorist attack on an American supermarket, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is tasked with this operation and teams up once more with undercover operative Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). Their plan at first appears simple enough – kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), daughter of a cartel leader, and make it look as if a rival cartel was responsible. The mission goes awry when it is discovered by the Mexican government. Isabela escapes and Gillick is left to find her, while Graver and the rest of the team quickly make their way back to American soil.
Following the ending of the previous film it is not a surprise that Emily Blunt does not appear in its sequel. Another outing with del Toro and Brolin is understandably something her character was not up for, even if it leaves a hole within the film that is never really filled. Blunt acted as a balance to counteract the brazen and sometimes questionable actions of her co-stars. She was the film’s conscience and held an idealism that created a dramatic conflict between the central characters. Graver may have to answer questions from his boss (Catherine Keener) and the Secretary of Defence (Matthew Modine) but our allegiance to him is never in doubt.
For the most part Sicario 2: Soldado is more cut throat in its approach and the first half in particular is full of ruthless action sequences. The kidnapping of Isabela is particularly well done and unfolds with a visceral style.
Unfortunately, as the film progresses its initial dynamism is lost and the more intriguing strands of the script are dropped in favour of a routine rescue mission. The nuance and ambiguity that marketed the original are lost, as the script decides to favour increasingly farfetched twists. One person rises from the dead after being shot at point blank range and a disappointing ending it bolted on, seemingly for the sole purpose of setting up another addition to the franchise. Do not expect geopolitical issues to be discussed or even acknowledged – it’s not that kind of film.
On the whole the film does everything Sicario did just not quite as well. The direction from Stefano Sollima is good but does not display the same mastery that Denis Villeneuve, who has gone on to direct Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, brought to the original.
Similarly there is nothing wrong with Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography but again it does not have the Michael Mann-esque grandeur that Roger Deakins infused the first film with. Many of the elements that made Sicario so good are still present but this time round they are not as textured and can end up feeling a little stale.
Wyndham Hacket Pain @WyndhamHP