THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE
Firstly, it needs to be said that this review has been written almost two weeks after I saw the film, and as such, is much shorter.
Following the surprising box-office success of Denis Villeneuve’s fantastic, Oscar-nominated, Sicario, Lionsgate quickly announced a sequel. The announcement was met with mixed reactions, as it did nothing but scream “money grab”. Expectations for the film dropped significantly when it was confirmed that neither Villeneuve or cinematographer Roger Deakins would return. Soon after it was announced that star Emily Blunt would not be reprising her role either, furthering damaging expectations for the sequel. Despite the fact that both Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin would be reprising their roles, anticipation for the sequel was rather low.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado continues the story of Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). After a terrorist attack, Graver recruits Alejandro for a mission to reignite a war between rival Cartels, of whom the US Department of Defense believes responsible for transporting the terrorists into the United States.
Villeneuve’s film was shockingly brutal and, thankfully, the same can be said for the sequel. The film sets its tone with a heartbreakingly realistic scene that deals with an issue that the world has become all too common with: suicide bombings. It’s a scene that doesn’t hold back and immediately establishes the themes and plot elements that drive the narrative. As the film goes on, it further pushes the boundaries in terms of its representation of governments. The first film established the corrupt and morally ambiguous decisions made by governments around the world on a daily basis. The sequel advances these representations of governments, who plot to turn the Cartels against each other by kidnapping the teenage daughter of a Cartel Kingpin and making it appear as though his rivals are the kidnappers. It’s an act that questions the audiences faith in their own government, whether they are American or not.
While the sequel is lacking the talents of Emily Blunt, it still has a strong female performer that truly stands out as a potential star: Isabela Moner. Playing the teenage daughter of a Cartel Kingpin, she is repeatedly required to go to extreme levels of emotional distress and she succeeds every time. Considering her co-stars involve both Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, it says a lot about her talent, that she manages to completely steal the show. Her character, Isabella Reyes, is a compelling standout. Right from her introduction, her character’s personality is established as a self-sufficient teen, however, upon meeting Alejandro, her vulnerable nature is revealed in a brilliant dynamic that bears similarities to the pairing of Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Laura (Dafne Keen) in Logan. While their dynamic is interesting, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t spend enough time developing their relationship.
The pairing of Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin was brilliant in the original film, with both cast members delivering outstanding performances. So its pleasing to see that the pair once again deliver fantastic performances. Granted, its nowhere near being career-defining performances, but both are still brilliant nonetheless.
One thing that sets the sequel apart from its predecessor is the increased focus on action. Sicario had a few shootouts and explosions, but they were extremely small in scale. Although the shootouts in Day of the Soldado are still smaller than the average film about Cartels, they remain thoroughly entertaining, regardless of their brief nature.
Additionally, much like the first film, Day of the Soldado is filled with suspense. This is largely due to the fact that the film has no clear protagonists or antagonists. Every single character, including Isabella Reyes, have dark sides to their characters, and this leads the audience to question the character’s motives and the morality of their actions. Day of the Soldado succeeds because it returns the audience to the dark corner of the world that the first film introduced and manages to perfectly recapture the panic-inducing tone of Villeneuve’s film. The soundtrack, composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, strikes the same eery tones of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s original score, which adds another sinister level to the tense scenes throughout the film.
Of course, Day of the Soldado definitely misses the presence of Villeneuve, (who is one of the best directors working today), and his frequent collaborator Roger Deakins (who is one of the best cinematographers working today). Although the directing and cinematography is done well, it often comes across as an attempt to copy the works of Villeneuve and Deakins. Another presence that the film does miss is Emily Blunt. She provided the emotional elements to the original film, and while Isabella Moner is exceptional in Day of the Soldado, Blunt’s charisma still seems frustratingly forgotten.
The script suffers from really poor pacing. Unlike Sicario‘s script, (which was nominated for several awards), Day of the Soldado‘s just feels somewhat incomplete. This is largely due to the film’s desperate desire to suddenly reach its conclusion. As the film approaches its final twenty minutes, all plotlines begin to wrap up instantly, with very little resolution. This proved to be the most frustrating aspect of my viewing experience. I wanted more of Isabella Reyes’ relationship with Alejandro, as there is nowhere near enough time spent focusing on their dynamic, which in the brief time that they spend together, was the most interesting aspect of the film. I wanted more resolution to the various character arcs introduced in the film. Unfortunately, the film employs a typical sequel bait ending, which fails to inspire confidence in the planned threequel. The sequel bait ending would not be as big an issue if the film didn’t rush to it. However, it does and it will leave the audience feeling unsatisfied as if they have only seen 3/4 of the film before it suddenly jumped to the final scene.
Furthermore, it needs to be said that the film is completely unnecessary. The overall plot does very little to advance the hanging plotlines of Sicario, and at times, is overly convoluted. This results in an irritating viewing experience, despite the fact that the film is still thoroughly entertaining. Throughout the film, the narrative frequently cuts back to a teenage boy, who has recently joined the Cartel smuggling operation. If done well, this could have been an interesting subplot, however, every single time the film cut back to him, I found myself annoyed and just waiting to get back to Alejandro and Isabella. The subplot is ultimately an unnecessary subplot in an unnecessary sequel. However, unlike the film as a whole, this particular subplot is far from entertaining.
Lastly, the film completely and utterly wastes two extremely talented actors: Matthew Modine and Shea Whigham. Modine is reduced to the typical government official, appearing in just two scenes. He does what he can with the role but given his limited screen time, is just another example of wasted talent. However, there remains a chance that he could return in the threequel, where he should be given a more significant role. As for Shea Whigham, he is given the most injustice by Day of the Soldado. Limited to just one scene, Shea Whigham (who I believe to be one of the most underrated actors around) has once again been trapped in a meaningless role, which will only further convince Hollywood that he should only ever be cast in minor roles. Unless a miracle happens, Shea Whigham is destined to join the list of incredibly talented actors who struggle to get any major roles after their television shows have ended.
In the end, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is an unnecessary but mostly satisfying follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s film.