Sicario 2: Soldado (released in North America as Sicario: Day of the Soldado) is a sequel to Denis Villeneuve
's Sicario (2015)
. And if ever a film didn't scream "sequel", it was that one. Apart from the fact that it was only a modest box-office hit (grossing $84.9 million against a $30 million budget, in an era when the only films that become franchises must gross $800 billion in the first five minutes of their release), the storyline was carried to a fairly natural conclusion - Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro
), protected by his CIA handler Matt Graver (Josh Brolin
), successfully manipulated naïve and idealistic CIRG officer Kate Macer (Emily Blunt
) into helping him exact revenge for the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of drug baron Fausto Alarcón (Julio Cesar Cedillo
). The film concluded with Graver getting what he wanted, Gillick getting revenge, and Macer in possession of a more realistic, if bitter, understanding of how the US conducts its affairs in Mexico.
A sequel felt wholly unnecessary. But a sequel is what we have. When a suicide bombing in Kansas kills fifteen people, the US government authorise Graver to adopt "extreme measures" to combat Mexican drug cartels, who are suspected of smuggling the terrorists across the border. Deciding to instigate a war between the two major cartels, Graver recruits Gillick to assassinate a high-profile lawyer for the Matamoros cartel while Graver and his team 'kidnap' Isabel Reyes (Isabela Merced
), the daughter of the kingpin of Matamoros' rival. Taking her to Texas, Graver and Gillick then 'rescue' her in a false flag operation, making it appear she was kidnapped by her father's enemies. As they transport her back to Mexico, Gillick begins to bond with her. However, after they cross the border, the Mexican police escorts double-cross them, and Isabel flees into the desert, pursued by Gillick. Meanwhile, the US government determines that two of the suicide bombers from Kansas were domestic terrorists, and thus were not smuggled into the country. With this mind, to help quell tensions with Mexico, Secretary of Defense James RIley (Matthew Modine
orders the CIA to abandon the mission, much to Garver's disgust.
With the first film wrapping up so neatly, the announcement of a sequel seemed like a typical Hollywood cash grab, one which would most likely crap all over the legacy of the truly excellent original. However, as bits and pieces of info regarding the sequel began to filter through, it started to feel less and less like the usual Hollywood knock-off we're all used to seeing. For starters, Taylor Sheridan
would return as sole-writer, in a script that would not go in what, for many, might seem the only real direction in which to take the story - Macer getting revenge for Graver and Gillick using her. Instead, Macer wouldn't even appear, as the script would instead focus on pseudo-antagonists Gillick and Graver. To this end, the only other actors who would also return would be Raoul Max Trujillo
as Rafael, one of Gillick's contacts in Mexico, and Jeffrey Donovan
as Steve Foraing, Graver's number two. The big concern for a lot of people, however, was who would replace the irritatingly talented Villeneuve in the director's chair. And so it was another welcome bit of news when the man chosen was Stefano Sollima
, the Italian director of A.C.A.B. - All Cops Are Bastards (2012)
and Suburra (2015)
, as well as most of the episodes in the first season of Gomorra: La serie (2014)
Okay, so first things first. Soldado isn't a patch on Sicario. Not even close (and, needless to say, there's nothing here to come anywhere near that dinner table scene). And there are some problems which were largely absent first time around. For example, the narrative suffers slightly from the absence of Macer, not insofar as she herself is irreplaceable, but more in the sense that the audience no longer has a surrogate. Because we know who Graver and Gillick really are this time around, there is obviously no point in the film playing its cards close to its chest, and so it adapts a more balls-to-the-wall, damn-the-torpedoes approach. This renders the narrative more morally simplistic than the first film. In tandem with this, perhaps wisely, Sheridan has written Soldado as a more conventional action-thriller than Sicario, but this has the knock-on effect that when the bullets start flying, as they do on several occasions, all the political/moral back-and-forth is made to seem nothing more than the material that gets us from one shootout to the next. Additionally, there's an element of repetition, as Isabel is traded off from one group to the next, and one definitely gets a sense of déjà vu, as she becomes a metaphorical cog in the screenwriter's machinery. Also, although Solima's direction is good (with that resume, how could he not get the gritty tone right), it's not as sharp as Villeneuve's. Finally, and this is a small point, the title of the film translates as Hitman 2: Soldier (or Hitman: Day of the Soldier in North America). This makes not a lick of sense, and instead sounds like a 90s action movie starring Michael Dudikoff
However, for all that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The script is sharp, relevant (references to a spineless POTUS undermining intelligence operations will be sure to please at least half the audience), gruff, and cool. With the two Sicario films, Hell or High Water (2016)
, Wind River (2017)
, and Yellowstone (2018)
, Sheridan is fast becoming one of Hollywood's most accomplished writers. The film also stars two of the coolest men on the planet being masculine and suppressing their emotions. Del Toro never so much as even hints at cracking a smile, whilst Brolin has lost some of the sardonic dismissiveness he possessed in the first film, but none of the bluster or self-confidence. All things considered, for a film that never seemed to have any real reason to exist, this is a cracking piece of storytelling, and has me already looking forward to the next instalment.