The following is a review of Sicario: Day of the Soldado — Directed by Stefano Sollima.
Some movies don’t need sequels. Sure, I know what you are going to say. No films truly need sequels, which is true. But when almost the entire creative team behind a successful standalone film is switched out and replaced when the sequel is to be made, alarm bells ring. I become worried that a new creative team might ruin what made the first film so great.
You see, I loved the first Sicario. It was the film that put director Denis Villeneuve, writer Taylor Sheridan, and the late, great composer Jóhann Jóhannsson on my radar, and I still think about some of the scenes in that film. It was a tough and cynical film with complexities and strong performances that made it stand out as a great neo-western from a remarkably gifted creative team. Does this sequel manage to replicate the success and further the overall series narrative in a satisfying way? No. Not at all.
In Sicario: Day of the Soldado, we reunite with and follow Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin), a CIA Special Activities officer, and the covert operative Alejandro (played by Benicio del Toro) as they are hired to do a false flag operation wherein they need to start a war between the major Mexican drug cartels by killing specific cartel members and kidnapping the daughter of a major cartel lord.
This is a film that proves that it absolutely is possible to have both one of the more serious, brutal, and gratuitous opening 10 minutes I’ve seen from a major non-horror release, as well as an ending scene with quite possibly the most egregiously bad sequel-teasing line of dialogue in recent memory.
While that ending scene is mostly an inoffensive sequel-teaser and thus not likely to be remembered by anything else than the unintentionally funny dialogue that almost got a laugh out of me in the theater, the film’s opening is much more problematic and potentially harmful.
The film opens with ten minutes of awful, unspeakable, and gratuitous brutality as we are shown two terrorist attacks, including one that is shamefully exploitative, for shock value. The film includes harmful representations of Muslims, Mexicans, and illegal immigrants that are all rooted in this terribly timed border crossing scene and the scene that it leads up to in a supermarket.
Considering the state of American border politics, this film is poorly timed, terribly tone-deaf, highly unnecessary, and, perhaps more than anything, irresponsible. I’m sure it will result in walkouts, and it may already have as it has already opened in the United States. Some will call it miscalculated entertainment, others will call it unintentional propaganda. I suppose the extent to which you enjoy the film will depend on how you read the opening, and whether or not you think the film’s message is muddled.
On top of all of that, I think it is a wearisome and hollow sequel that never really goes anywhere. You may find yourself confused that the film doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion. It just, sort of, ends after the aforementioned tacked-on scene. If you add all of this together, you end up with a poor and potentially offensive sequel to a critical darling. Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a disappointing and potentially harmful dud.
But there actually are a couple of good things about this film. To be truthful, it isn’t a complete and total disaster. For what it’s worth, Benicio del Toro does get a chance to improve upon his character with some character-defining scenes that he does a good job in. Although he is in a bad sequel, he hasn’t lost a step and is probably the best thing about this film.
Brolin didn’t make a positive impression, though, but it was nice to see his character wearing Crocs. At least that is something. And although I do think it is both potentially harmful and a serious step down in quality, the film is mostly competently made, and the mean world created by Taylor Sheridan and Denis Villeneuve in the 2015 critical success is probably what makes the lackluster sequel work occasionally.
In the end, Sicario: Day of the Soldado tries to set itself up for another sequel in a scene that, to me, felt tacked on and was executed in a hamfisted way with arguably the worst sequel-teasing lines of dialogue I’ve heard. If a third film ever happens, I hope that it manages to relocate and make proper use of what worked for the layered and complex original film. But we didn’t need this first sequel, and it certainly didn’t make me excited for a third film in the series.
5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen