‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ Review: An Unnecessary Sequel That Exceeds Expectations

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.

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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.

Rating: 7.0/10

 

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Review: There Was An Idea…

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Quite possibly the most ambitious film ever created, Avengers: Infinity War had expectations that were seemingly insurmountable. A film which, ten years ago, audiences never expected to see. Following the glowing receptions to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, it’s no surprise that Marvel trusted the Russo brothers to helm the film, replacing the departing Joss Whedon.

Avengers: Infinity War tells the story of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) quest to wipe out half of the universe. However, he finds himself challenged by those that refuse to bow down and accept their fate.

The film has a story of gargantuan nature. This should come as no surprise considering that there are 18 films prior to Infinity War that in some way or another, set up this film. The film feels epic in scope as Thanos genuinely presents a threat to the entire universe. Similar to other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War tells a story that spans the entire franchise, meaning that the narrative takes the characters to places already familiar to audiences whilst also introducing new locales. Despite already being 18 films in, the MCU continues to expand and the worldbuilding in Infinity War is as good as it has ever been.

There was a lot of excitement and nervousness with the sheer number of major characters that were going to appear in the film. Although the film can feel overpopulated at times, seeing the characters interact, some for the first time, is a sight to behold. There is an especially hilarious interaction between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). It’s not a major interaction that affects the plot in any significant way, however, it does a brilliant job of establishing the character dynamics and sets the stage for what ends up being a side-splitting running gag. Although the cast is overfilled, and some characters have bare minimum roles, everyone gets a chance to have their own individual standout moment. Out of all the heroes, the Guardians are easily the highlights, with a smart sense of humour and surprisingly, act as the core of the emotional weight in the film. Nonetheless, although this film is called Avengers: Infinity War, this is Thanos’ film. He is the main character and an extraordinary one at that. Right from the opening five minutes, he makes his presences known as a real and terrifying threat to the universe in a tense opening scene. What makes Thanos an extraordinary character is that his motivations are rational. His plan to wipe out half of the universe actually makes sense. Not only that but he too has a great deal of emotional baggage that sets him apart from the majority of other MCU villains, and cinematic comic book villains in general. I was particularly worried about the fact that he is a completely CGI creation. We’ve seen villains like this in the past that look terrible (*cough* Doomsday in Batman v Superman *cough*). Thankfully, he looks amazing, as he should for a film with a budget somewhere between $300-400 million and Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as the ‘Mad Titan’, in a role he was seemingly born to play.

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Another concern that many fans had was regarding the humour and just how much would feature in the film. The Russo brothers adopted the same approach that they made towards Civil War, with humour that is mostly subtle (except with the Guardians) and not overshadowing the gravitas of the situation at hand. There are times, when the jokes do feel totally out-of-place, considering the events that unfold throughout the film. However, for the most part, Avengers: Infinity War successfully continues the grand tradition of Marvel comedy, whilst also focusing on the dramatic, emotional aspects of the narrative.

There are several new additions to the MCU in Infinity War, but none make such an impression as the Black Order. It’s very rare for secondary villains to make much of an impression on the audience but Thanos’ children, the Black Order, especially Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) do just that. Creepy and powerful, Ebony Maw has such an intimidating presence that I’m a little disappointed that he wasn’t the main villain in another film. The rest of the Black Order are more mixed, although impressive in design, they offer little more than punching bags for the heroes. That being said, they are involved in a particularly excellent action sequence set in Edinburgh which actually serves as their main introduction. I just need to say how bizarre it is seeing several of the Avengers running around Waverley Station considering I’m there almost every week. The Black Order was a good addition although it’s just unfortunate that they weren’t used more and that the most interesting of them all had the least screentime.

The MCU has been very much a mixed bag in terms of visual effects, with The Avengers often looking like an expensive TV production. That is not a problem that Infinity War faces as the visual effects are among the best of the MCU, with its CGI creations including the characters Thanos and the Black Order, and exceptional fully CG locations. There are a couple of moments, most notably during the battle of Wakanda, that has been heavily featured in the trailers, where the CGI is very noticeable. However, these moments are minuscule and do not distract from the brilliance of the rest of the visual effects.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a real sense of emotional weight to the film. By the end, you really do feel that nothing will ever be the same for the characters or the universe. We have spent, in some cases, a decade with these characters on our screens and whenever a beloved character is in pearl, the audience feel the dread hit them like a hurricane as there is a real sense of danger in the film thanks to the fantastic opening five minutes. As the film played out, I found myself becoming emotionally invested in Thanos, as he is so expertly written to be a complex, thought-provoking character.

One thing that the film excels at is surprises. There are so many surprises in this film which of course I won’t spoil. I will say one surprise, in particular, made me jump in my seat with excitement and left my jaw on the floor.

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As expected, having seen The Winter Soldier and Civil War, the Russo brothers craft more enthralling action set pieces. There are several great moments of action spread throughout the entire film but none are as epic or impressive as the final thirty minutes. It’s so frustrating trying to write about it without spoiling it so I’m just going to say that the final thirty minutes alone are worth going to see Infinity War for. I’m also just going to say that the ending is the greatest ending to a comic book film ever. Quite simply incredible.

So although there are a lot of positives with Infinity War, it is not a perfect film. The cast is far too big and there is far too much going on at the same time. The film tries to balance all of the storylines that unfold, repeatedly switching between them but as there are so many, it often means that by the time we return to certain ones, a reminder of what was happening is actually needed. It becomes a chore to remember everything that is happening and the characters that are involved. One particular storyline that I hated was Thor’s. He ventures off on his own task and every single time it cut back to his storyline, I internally groaned as it was vastly inferior to the other storylines. There was some confusion over whether or not Peter Dinklage was a part of the cast, however, his role was eventually confirmed by one of the posters. Again, I won’t spoil it, but he is involved with Thor’s storyline and it was a role that really could have been done by anyone.

Furthermore, as there are so many characters, it’s not surprising that there is very little character development for anyone other than Thanos. After all, this is his film and he does have the most screentime. The film is relentlessly paced (which is certainly not a bad thing), but it does often leave the characters in its wake. The film initially sets up potential developments, but more often than not, never follows through on them.

Lastly, although the battle of Wakanda is excellent, it is just the heroes fighting another CGI army. As a result of this, it is often videogame-esque in its design. It is blatantly apparent at times that the actors are punching at nothing, which is, of course, frustrating.

In the end, Avengers: Infinity War is a thoroughly entertaining, though not perfect film that succeeds despite all the odds against it.

(Also just a heads up. Stay until the very end as mirroring Iron Man, there is a post-credits scene that teases the future of the MCU)

Rating: 9.4/10