Jim Carrey’s 1994 is usually accepted as the hottest year an actor has ever as he starred in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber.” I’d be willing to bet that history will look upon Josh Brolin’s 2018, between “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Deadpool 2” and now this, with equal amounts of praise.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a sequel to 2015’s “Sicario,” a film that starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro and received critical praise and three Oscar nominations. Brolin and del Toro return here as they get sanctioned by the US government to launch a false flag operation in order to start a war between the Mexican drug cartels. Stefano Sollima takes over directing duties from Denis Villeneuve while Taylor Sheridan returns to write the script.
I enjoyed the first “Sicario” film. Shot by now-Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (it feels so good to say that) it looks gorgeous and features several brilliantly directed sequences including the border bridge scene (which has to be one of the most YouTube’d movie scenes in recent years). No one really felt a follow-up was necessary, although they tossed out the idea of del Toro’s hitman Alejandro Gillick getting a spin-off, yet here we are three years later. And does “Day of the Soldado” justify its existence? I mean, not really.
I like Taylor Sheridan as a screenwriter and after some felt he was snubbed for his work on the first “Sicario” he earned an Oscar nomination for 2016’s “Hell or High Water;” I also really enjoyed his (“not”) directorial debut last year with “Wind River.” His scripts are all pretty straight-forward and based in reality, with tension and a take on the modern Western that engross the viewer and drop them into the world, whether that is dusty Mexico, the wide plains of Texas or the snowy northern US. This is his first script that doesn’t really have his staple on it, as the first act jumps around from Mexico to Kansas City to Africa and then back to the U.S. all in about ten minutes. So much is happening and it is easy to get lost, which like I said is unusual for a Sheridan script and it feels either he mailed this thing in as a sequel cash grab or the studio just accepted his first draft without polishing it.
The film is sold as, and starts out with, Josh Brolin’s CIA agent Matt Graver being tasked with turning the Mexican drug cartels against each other after the US labels them as official terrorist organizations. This may seem cool and interesting but once he and del Toro kidnap the daughter of a cartel leader (Isabela Moner) the film becomes something else entirely. I really think watching the CIA team continue to commit staged attacks and assassinations would have been a much more interesting (and exciting) film but instead most of the time is a “Logan”-esque road trip.
“Soldado” just feels like inferior to its predecessor in every way, like a student who loved “Sicario” wanted to pay homage to it as their final project. Not to say the quality is poor but the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir (who collaborated with the late/great Jóhann Jóhannsson on the first film) features a lot of the “Inception” style “BWONG!” sound effects but not much of the tension. While Deakins’ shots looked gritty yet beautiful Dariusz Wolski’s is just grim, which I supposed matches the tone and outlook on the world that the film is trying to depict. Neither of these are hindrances as a whole but in a film that so desperately wants to be compared to what came before, they can’t help but feel like steps down.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a well-crafted and well-enough acted and in some sense its bleak and brutal depictions of violence and the current immigration situation are to be commended. It is just sad that the film takes way too long to figure out what it truly wants to be and that creates some pacing issues. The first film was slow but it had a building sense of tension as the noose got tighter; here, it doesn’t build to much which just leaves the audience feeling bored. There are a few sequences I’m sure I’ll YouTube in the future and the least-demanding action-thriller fans may get their money’s worth, but by most accounts this is just a letdown of a film.
Critic’s Grade: C