Review: Sicario 2: Soldado

Another in a chain of recent disappointments for me at the cinema (I hope this trend ends soon), Sicario 2 is the sequel nobody really needed. There’s promise and potential but it never quite reaches it.

After a terrorist attack is linked to drug cartels, the US government secretly hires amoral Black ops agents Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to gain some revenge in Mexico. Things go wrong and the two are forced to face difficult decisions.

Straight off the bat, I didn’t really think this film would be as good as the original, and to be honest it would have needed something special to be. I was prepared to be wrong, but as it is, it’s nowhere near as good because it lacks that film’s nihilistic, bleak and intense tone and feel.

New director Stefano Sollima faces an impossible act following Denis Villeneuve, and while his mastery of a couple of action scenes and the brutal, grim opening is assured, the film (thanks to plot and character choices) never sustains dread, tension or indeed brutality that the original always had round the corner.

This is all the more surprising because writer Taylor Sheridan was responsible for the first film, and it’s a shame that the story (which has promising elements) misses that bite. His work there alongside Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Johann Johnson created a world believably close to ours but shaded by a pallour or sort of gaping darkness.

While the central thrust is uncomfortably timely given recent US developments, this interesting basis for a sequel is undermined by the two main characters changing fundamentally between films. And this is largely a consequence of removing Emily Blunt’s moral compass – it is now divided between Graver and Gillick, removing the very thing that made them interesting in the original: that they were amoral and prepared to do anything to get results.

Sheridan and Sollima also fall short with a couple of Hollywood style plot turns that contradict what the original attempted. The conclusion blatantly setting up sequels or a franchise is a demoralising development, though this being a sequel I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I mentioned the important work of the cinematography and music – the former in the original gave the film a stunningly visceral sheen, but here Dariusz Wolski’s work unfortunately makes scenes feel cheap and doesn’t make the most of the stunning settings.

In turn, the music by Hildur Guðnadottir is unfortunately not a patch on original from the sadly departed Johann Johansson. His passing means that this score has to work to try and make something similar yet different, but it doesn’t work – and blatant reuse of his thudding theme at the end just reinforces this movie’s inferiority to its predecessor.

Josh Brolin seems to be in every review I write recently, but as expressed above, despite early promise that we would get the wise cracking, flip flop wearing sociopath of the first film, everything good about the character feels walked back (it’s not his fault, it’s the story). Brolin was great in the original because he was at turns a snarky slob and a brutal shark, and removing Blunt forces him to care too much, and form 50 percent of a conscience with del Toro.

The other lead suffers the same fate obviously – much of what made him so enigmatic and interesting is reversed in the name of drama. Del Toro’s grim, moody silences and chilling amorality, as well as his stilted delivery and unsettling demeanour, are ground down and polished off to again make him appear more sympathetic.

Smaller main roles include two younger actors with varying levels of success. Manuel Garcia-Rolfo dolefully plays an impassive kid who is supposed to represent the corruption of youth by the cartels – but he just slides into what appears to be poor acting. He doesn’t have enough to do, and as such his story is not as engaging until it criss crosses the rest. Even then, he’s not good enough to justify such a large role.

Conversely, Isabela Moner gives the film the feminine perspective and stronger acting Blunt’s absence removed. In perhaps the only impressive performance, the young actress is not only very accomplished and composed, but manages to convey shades of entitled fury, passion and sheer, primal terror, and must have gone through the wringer making this film. She’s one to watch for sure.

Other cameo performances include Jeffrey Donovan’s comedy third man in the Brolin-Del Toro partnership, a wry jokey figure in the first who doesn’t really need to be here, offering nothing but another through line to the first film.

A couple of cameos notable only for casting see Matthew Modine grimace through a few tiny scenes as the secretary of justice, utilising his steely grin and demeanour but otherwise providing a famous face for a tiny role. Catherine Keener’s government connection role is more of the same – hardly needed in the scheme of things, and merely putting a face to the government but with nothing else to do.

I really wanted this film to be great, and had been reassured by some reviews claiming it was on a par with the original. Unfortunately it failed to live up to my expectations – it could have been better (the underlying plot being particularly resonant with current affairs as mentioned). A real shame!

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