How do you approach making a follow up to a film that didn’t need a follow up? Do you stay true to the themes and tone of the original or forge a new path across the Mexican desert? Stefano Sollima’s Sicario 2: Soldado opts to stay true to what made the first film so unexpectedly brilliant. The preceding film had been a taught, atmospheric thriller as Denis Villeneuve guided the audience through two hours of miserable, brilliant action. The fact that the mere mention of a sequel to Sicario had elicited raised eyebrows meant you couldn’t escape the feeling in the screening room that the question of ‘why?’ hung heavy over the film’s opening credits.
The opening sequences of the film are effectively sensationalist and uncomfortable, tonally operating only a couple of notches below a Fox news broadcast. Josh Brolin reprises his role as Matt Graver, a government “consultant” whose moral conscious is left outside the door. Following a terrorist attack in a grocery store in Kansas City, he pops up in Somalia, psychologically torturing a Somali pirate in a plot strand that is never mentioned again and only serves to show the audience what a supposed badass Graver is. Graver is then called to Washington D.C. by the Secretary of Defence (Matthew Modine) to formulate a plan to avenge those who were killed in the terrorist attack. The government believes that Mexican drug cartels are behind the smuggling of the terrorists into the US and so are ready to classify Mexican cartels as terrorist organisations. Graver‘splan to make the classification run smoothly is to run a false-flag operation to dupe two major syndicates into a war with each other. The film riffs slightly on the idea that the US government can do whatever it wants as long as it is not found to be doing it and Graver is the embodiment of this mercenary ideal.
Graver enlists his old friend Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), the lawyer turned ‘Sicario’. Following Alejandro’s re-introduction the action set pieces occur one after the other until the film’s conclusion. We see an assassination in broad daylight; the kidnapping and staged “rescue” of a cartel kingpin’s daughter (Isabella Moner); a sneak attack on a convoy of Humvees in a sequence where the film get closest to the brilliance of the first film. However, despite all of the set pieces the film becomes looser and looser as it chugs towards its conclusion, and fittingly with Alejandro attempting to travel across a great distance of the Chihuahuan desert against ridiculous odds, the film finally collapses under its own weight. Sollima’s direction takes its cues from the original and the cinematography from Dariusz Wolski is not a patch on Roger Deakin’s, showcasing a distinct lack of originality.
The film sits its politics right of centre and in an age of populism where short term ideas seem to be the most powerful, Sicario 2: Soldado lacks the nuance to really pull its central ideas off. The narrative is flabby and contrived to the point of nearly becoming meaningless and the script, written once again by Taylor Sheridan, desperately needs a re-write with the dialogue being stale at best. Ultimately, the question of why the film exists at all rears its head far too often, without offering a suitable answer.
It ends with a whimper; stretching its credibility even further and paving the way for a third instalment. I let out an audible groan of displeasure at this point. After a promising but still by-numbers first hour, the film sinks to nothing more than a slightly grittier version of Netflix’s Narcos. The first Sicario stands out as a fantastic, unexpected and challenging thriller, Soldado is a functional follow up that should have been taken out to the Chihuahuan desert and executed before the filming began.