As a sequel, Sicario: Day of Soldado stands on its own from predecessor Sicario, but it lacks the nuance of the other film. While there’s certainly more action in this new installment, the story feels light where it requires depth. There are inspired moments from Tayler Sheridan’s script, and they manage to make this a decent sequel to the superior Sicario. Setting aside those moments, the rest of the film falls into many action film tropes, losing the almost film noir atmosphere of Sicario.
After a bombing in Kansas City, America’s government sets out to put an end to terrorists entering the United States via the U.S./Mexico border. Federal Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is told by his superiors to start a war between two Mexican drug cartels whom are responsible for trafficking the terrorists. Graver re-teams with Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, a sicario (hitman).
There’s a large immigration theme surrounding this film and it’s difficult to separate it from the current political climate as the politics remain purely surface-level when the should’ve taken the opportunity to dig deeper. Once Graver and Alejandro set their sights on pitting the drug cartels against each other, the film becomes more focused. The questionable morality of Graver and Alejandro that permeated the original film make up for the most interesting aspects of this one.Emily Blunt grounded the moral gray area of Sicario and this time around Del Toro does great work in letting the audience root for him. Sicario handled the revelation of Alejandro’s past with style but without Blunt as the moral compass, the stark reminder of who Alejandro is is greatly needed. His chemistry with Isabela Moner’s Isabel Reyes, the daughter of one of the cartel leaders, is easily the guiding force of the narrative, and the only one that truly matters.
The biggest difference is the absence of Blunt. Brolin and Del Toro are engaging on screen, and their characters are some of the best new action characters in recent years, especially Alejandro, but that outside perspective to their activities provided by Blunt allowed the nature of their jobs to be more clouded, and thus, more interesting. The end of Sicario felt much more cynical and foreboding, but that uneasiness was largely lost in Day of Soldado when the mysterious lone ranger figure becomes the focus of the story. Because of this, not one action set piece matches up the infamous bridge scene in Sicario, which works because it’s shown from Blunt’s perspective.
That isn’t to say Day of Soldado isn’t worth watching. Once you get past the murky political reasoning the events are taking place, it becomes a much better and enjoyable film. It just fails to live up to the bar set by Sicario, or even Sheridan’s Hell or High Water, which carries much of the same feel of Day of Soldado, but with better story direction. It’s clear Sheridan’s got his niche for storytelling in these dry, hot places of the world, where the oft-forgotten characters seem to find themselves in, and I’m interested to see his third take on these characters he’s created as the end delivered a sense of danger and foreboding that will have us back in the theaters by the time the third rolls around.