OnScreen Review: "Sicario: Day of the Soldado"

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

I’m a huge sports fan. Growing up in New England, I have gotten to experience more than my fair share of championship teams this century. There is a lot of turnover in sports now, with players switching teams regularly. Every once in a while, a team has an exceptional season and wins a title, but loses some key players through free agency or retirement, and the next year they aren’t terrible, but they just aren’t the same as the year before because they were unable to replace those key players. Some of the elements are there, but there is just too much missing of what made the team great.

This was what popped into my head in the wake of seeing Sicario: Day of the Soldado. I was blown away when I saw Sicario in 2015. It was my #1 movie that year. It’s a movie that fires on all cylinders. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro make a terrific combo in front of the camera. It’s got a powerful first-time script from Taylor Sheridan, a killer score from composer Johann Johannsson that feels like a descent into hell, and cinematographer Roger Deakins has arguably never been better (one of the many instances he was robbed of an Oscar). And directing it all is Denis Villeneuve, who has only further solidified his status as an elite director in subsequent years. It’s really an embarrassment of riches, riches that Day of the Soldado is sorely missing.

Gone are Blunt (the beating heart of the first film), Johannsson (RIP), Deakins, and Villeneuve. Back are Brolin, del Toro in front of the camera and Sheridan as screenwriter. After stirring the pot and shaking a few trees in the last film, Brolin’s Matt Graver is called upon again to “dramatically overreact” in the ever-escalating problem of the drug war at the southern border of the US. Once again enlisting the expertise of Del Toro’s Alejandro, Matt launches an elaborate scheme to get the drug cartels fighting each other in Mexico culminating with the kidnapping of a kingpin’s daughter, Isabela (Isabela Moner) and staged to look like it was done by rivals. Circumstances turn sour when the attempt to return Isabela is thwarted by corruption, putting Matt and Alejandro on opposite sides of a divide with the girl at the center of it.

2018 is turning into the Summer of Brolin after his back-to-back features in superhero movies Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 and now this. Del Toro was the hidden gem of Sicario, playing a character who gradually moves into the foreground and then completely wrests control of the story from Blunt’s character. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy the actors and the work they do here and in general, reprising these roles diminishes the mystique of the characters a bit, especially Del Toro’s Alejandro. In the end, these characters are better off being supporting roles rather than leads in their own story.

Alejandro does something truly shocking at the end of Sicario, something that runs completely counter to the apparent moral stance he takes in this film, when he refuses to clean up loose ends, so to speak. And what Sheridan’s story puts him through and where the character ends up makes him more of a supernatural, indestructible force than a human character. It’s a disappointing plot point done more for shock value than for actual character building or any real affect.

It’s impossible in 2018 to make a film about the drug war, illegal immigration, and the US-Mexican border and not have it be politicized, though I do not think grand political statements are the agenda of Sheridan as screenwriter or Stefano Sollima as director. Whereas Sicario focused mostly on the agents and the cartels, illegal crossings are a focal point of the story in Day of the Soldado.

There are some intense action moments and fine performances from Brolin, Del Toro, and the young Moner, but the film is never able to fully justify its own existence or shake the notion that it is a sequel to a film that never needed a sequel. And given that so many integral components are missing this time around, too many of the replacements feel like they are trying to imitate what came before, most notably in the score and cinematography. To be fair, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a slightly above average action thriller. It could maybe even be a good enough film if it existed on its own. But coming off the immense plateau that was 2015’s Sicario, this feels like a letdown.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 star