Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

*. I’m not sure why they bothered with this one. What I mean is, Sicario, while it did well, wasn’t such a big hit that it demanded a sequel. There was no part of the story that was incomplete. I didn’t think Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro was such a compelling character that I needed to see any more of him.
*. And yet, here we are. One of the featurettes included with the DVD is even titled “From Film to Franchise” so you know the direction things are heading. Certainly the ending here makes it clear that there’s at least another Sicario movie coming. But let’s leave that for another day.
*. The team that really made Sicario what it was — director Denis Villeneuve, photographer Roger Deakins, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson — were unavailable this time out. Also missing was Emily Blunt’s character, who gave the film a kind of moral anchor.
*. Their replacements are not inept, though perhaps a little too beholden to what was done in the previous flim. Stefano Sollima directs, and he’s fine doing Villeneuve. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski is capable, but without Deakins’s patience. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score sounds a lot like Jóhannsson’s (to whose memory Day of the Soldado is dedicated). Isabela Moner is good as the kidnapped girl who is witness to horrors. In fact, you could argue that what’s most wrong with the movie is what was directly carried over. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin were more like secondary characters in Sicario, without any real depth, and they don’t pick up a lot more here. Also: Taylor Sheridan is back doing the screenplay and it is junk.
*. With regard to Sheridan’s script, can I ask what the hell is going on in this movie? ISIS terrorists are being smuggled into the U.S. over the Mexican border. That’s a stretch — though it was borrowed by the Trump administration and made into a talking point — but it gets even worse. You see, the response of the U.S. government is to send a totally unconstrained black ops team into Mexico to start a war between a couple of cartels by kidnapping the daughter of one of the cartel bosses. This will achieve what?

*. One would have thought such a timely film would have had a clearer political message. As it stands, however, that message is muddled. Still, while some critics found the whole thing pointless there is, I think, a general gist to what’s going on. In order to protect America tough guys like Brolin have to operate outside the law, or the guidance of all those wimpy bureaucrats in Washington. Note how the captured pirate sneers at Brolin for how Americans have to follow the rules, just before Brolin blows up his house and then threatens to assassinate every member of his family. Brolin is a guy who’s not afraid to get dirty. But in secret, of course. Because you can’t handle the truth.
*. Then, when the shit (predictably) hits the fan, the bureaucrats and politicians cut his operation off at the knees. They are wimps, and what’s worse they don’t have a code.
*. Going along with this attitude is the fascination with high-tech gadgets and weaponry. This is what really separates the forces of an advanced civilization from the savages and barbarians. We have better (read: more lethal) toys.
*. These marvellous toys, in turn, make war seem both cool and fun, since the American soldiers are presented as basically indestructible. I ended my notes on Sicario by saying it was in danger of turning into a superhero franchise, This is, in effect, where they did end up, with the special ops team operating like the Avengers: dropping from the sky and using their super powers to wipe out armies of mooks. I mean, the name of Brolin’s character is Matt Graver, which is a moniker you’d expect to find attached to a Marvel warrior. Though we might want to call him Cable anyway.
*. I wasn’t overwhelmed by Sicario and Day of the Soldado seems a lesser film in every way. To return to the question of what the plan was, I don’t think there was one aside from making the transition “from film to franchise.” According to the various producers interviewed on the DVD the one thing they kept returning to was that this movie needed to be “bigger” than its precursor. Executive producer Erica Lee: “Soldado is Sicario on steroids.” I think they should have aimed for something more than just enlargement.
*. Most of this film just seems like a rehash, without any human interest and no action sequences that really stand out. It’s nicely turned out, but doesn’t have any of the atmosphere that made Sicario worthwhile. The script is boo-yah and dumb. Ultimately, like most follow-ups in an expanding series, there’s a sense we’re just marking time. I’m hoping they can do better with the next instalment, and then see fit to let things go.

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