Sicario was a movie where one character tied herself in multiplying more knots in order to do what she thought was right in the pursuit of justice. Sicario may be the Spanish word for hitman but the movie of that title was not about the hitman but rather about an FBI agent who is young enough to still be idealistic about her job until she is confronted by the futility of her work and how even doing the right thing can be a misguided notion when the line between right and wrong is so desperately murky.
It’s unfortunate that Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado doesn’t have an Emily Blunt like character for us to identify with. With Blunt’s everyman innocent, the story of Sicario 2 is left to a pair of characters who are charismatic but not very believable as arbiters of the moral ground. Sicario 2 asks us to believe that the characters of CIA Fixer, Matt (Josh Brolin) and hitman, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) are somehow guided to do the right thing when their cold-hearted depravity was the point of the characters when they were conceived.
The story of Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado begins with a pair of terror attacks at the border between the U.S and Mexico. In a shocking sequence we watch three terrorists walk into a super-market and each detonate bombs strapped to their chests. This is the act that convinces the Secretary of State (Matthew Modine) to go after the people who are believed to be helping terrorists into the country, the drug cartels.
For this dirty work he turns to CIA Fixer Matt and tasks him with a black op. The idea is that Matt and his team will kidnap the daughter of a drug kingpin and drop her off in the territory of a rival kingpin. The goal is to get the cartels into a war with each other and in so doing, keep the cartels from providing cover for terrorists to cross the border into Texas. The idea is solid in planning but the execution is bad. Mexican police are supposed to provide a safe lead into Mexico but instead, they go into business for themselves and nearly kill Matt and his team.
This leaves Matt’s friend and professional killer Alejandro to care for the kidnapped girl while Matt high tails it back to Texas to deal with the fallout of Americans killing Mexicans in Mexico. What you have here is a plot with a lot potential, plenty of rich ground to cover in crafting these characters and evolving them from the first film. Unfortunately, the makers of Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado can’t seem to make up their mind about what film they are making.
Turning Matt and Alejandro against each other is a clever idea, their alliance may feel close but there is underlying tension to be exploited. The story is timely and potentially bold but the makers of Sicario: Day of the Soldado can’t seem to decide what movie they are making. Is this a gritty, hard-bitten drama about hard men doing the hard things or is this a critique of the secretive and dangerous methods of an American law enforcement acting from a place of fear and weakness.
As I said earlier, this is a rich playing field for characters like these. Unfortunately, director Stefano Sillima is unable to capitalize on the work of his terrific cast. Sillima’s direction is lazy and deeply conventional. Where the original Sicario was an artful study of characters struggling with their morality in an amoral world, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is a macho, posturing, pointless action movie.
Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado trades the best part of the original, the character based acting and observational plot in favor of the more familiar gun fights and chases of the action genre. What they fail to consider are the expectations of people who’ve seen the first Sicario. I loved Sicario for its thicket of moral grey area and how Blunt’s character would navigate that thicket. I enjoyed her struggle and understood her frustration.
Without Blunt or a similar character in this sequel what is left is rather weak sauce. There are far less complicated notes being played. The motivations of the characters are lacking as is the clever visual technique of Academy Award winner Roger Deakins who made the grit and grime of Mexico come to life as if Mexico itself were a dangerous character. All of the best stuff of Sicario is missing from Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado and what a shame that is.