“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a film that in the midst of its story feels as if it's missing something. It’s almost incoherently speaking about something, but it is speaking about something. As unlike "Sicario” providing no message to its story, questioning whether our actions as a country should be equivalent to the evil we face, "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" delivers a message. The first film provided a lens surrounding the subject, observing without choosing a side to argue for.
It was that itch that I needed to be scratched for me to dub the first film as something exceptional. Sheridan chooses a side of the moral puzzle to fixate upon at the beginning of this film in a disturbing sequence. He then flips flops to another viewpoint halfway through and then chooses neither side near the end. It’s as if he’s just as conflicted as we are when watching this movie because our first film was carried by Emily Blunt, who was our moral compass. Allowing us to see this dirty world through idealistic eyes, this time around that morality is missing.
This time around we're watching a sequence of events that begin with a visceral glimpse of a terrorist attack. Up close and personal, we observe four men walk into a retail store in Kansas City and unleash mayhem on innocent American lives. Playing up to this idea that their actions justify our violent retaliation with hellfire and fury and “the full weight of the United States military” as Matthew Modine states while depicting this film’s secretary of defense.
From there we cut to our C.I.A operative turned boogeyman depicted by Josh Brolin, he’s grown out a beard (Brolin with a beard is money by the way), and he finds himself targeting Somalia crime lords who gave those terrorists access to ships to get across the sea to Mexico. He displays new rules of engagement, threatening to launch an airstrike on this man’s home if he does not give him the information needed, and he’s not bluffing.
Soon after that, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought back to American soil to receive the orders of creating a war between cartels as he did with terrorist groups in the middle east. To assist in starting this war, Matt (Josh Brolin) brings back Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) into the fold, like the rabid dog that he’s going to let loose. To start this battle, they plan on kidnapping the daughter of a cartel leader, Isabella Reyes (Isabela Moner), who soon becomes a bit of a problem when the job goes awry. Manifesting a film that becomes your necessary action-centric thriller of the summer that serves up the violence with a level of brutality that matches the first film.
The violence is not given the same moral complexity or the same visual treatment that the triple Oscar nominee recipient provided. That film had vital tools in its fabrication, devices that are noticeably missing this time around. Stefano Sollima (“Suburra”) attempts to offer that same attention to detail and realism that the first film contained, using authentic sound design and a mimicking score that tries to inject that same tension.
He falls short on all fronts though because he’s attempting to replicate instead of creating. He uses 360-degree tracking shots that take place during shootouts, providing intimate glimpses of the violence from a perspective that is thrilling. He also maintains that grim tone, a tone that is exemplified during these interactions between these shady government officials and Matt (Josh Brolin). When he lives in his own skin, he delivers some remarkable sequences, a key lesson for those who try to replicate another artists' genius.
Dariusz Wolski (“All the Money in the World” & “Alien: Covenant”) replaces the legendary Roger Deakins and unashamedly attempts to imitate Deakins’ techniques. He uses those extended branching shots of the helicopters hovering over the border, and using his lighting to cast shadows in a way that matches Deakins’ style. He falls short as well, and with no shame added because Deakins is a rare genius that comes around once in a lifetime.
Sheridan is that one common thread behind the film’s production. He wrote the first film which remained ambiguous with its meaning in a way that worked and didn’t work for that film. It was an itch that needed to be scratched as I said, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” scratches it. He flip-flops between moral decisions as I stated above. He chooses one side that suggests that stronger violence destroys weaker violence, then shows a sequence of events that refute that notion, as if to say there is no right answer. No matter what we choose to do, it's the wrong answer. Maybe that is his message, a message that he has to sacrifice footing for, as I don’t believe he supports that hard-right leaning way of thinking that takes place in the first half of the film.
However, the film doesn’t bring the same amount of productional heft and artistry to be found in the first film; rarely having a flavor of its own, and it weighs the film down in a noticeable way because it feels as if your missing that critical piece to finish the puzzle being crafted by Sheridan.
He doesn’t write nearly as cleverly as the first film either, which suggests that Villeneuve may have assisted in that fabrication of that moral examination. The violence was meant to be a measuring stick of how far we’re willing to go to solve an unsolvable problem, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” seems to use that violence almost gratuitously. Using it to make a point, yes, but one that doesn’t reveal itself until the end of the film.
It can become as conflicting as the subject of cartel crime and immigration policies, but Sheridan is in full form in providing those masculine moments of gun porn and glorifying violence as a form of entertainment. Where we draw the line in that area is a complex dilemma in itself.
Nonetheless, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” feels more like a remake than a sequel. Never matching or attempting to make it's own voice be heard, Sheridan provides a screenplay that is just shy of being as complex as the first film but delivers a message this time around. A message that is manifested through questionable methods, but one that is delivered and resounding with that same hollowness and dourness of “Sicario.”
If this film is anything, it’s a testament to the magnificence of Denis Villeneuve, Johan Johansson, and Roger Deakins, and just how irreplaceable they are. Brolin and Del Toro may provide some charisma and that macho man mentality that some audiences will crave, Isabela Moner is fantastic as well, but it all seems so unnecessary, a message falling upon deaf ears.