Is Sicario: Day of the Soldado as good as the first movie?

Sicario 2 -- Photo credit: Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP -- Acquired via EPK.TV
Sicario 2 -- Photo credit: Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP -- Acquired via EPK.TV /

Sicario: Day of the Soldado has tension and thrills throughout, but does it deliver the same compelling story as its predecessor?

Back in 2015, the film Sicario was easily one of my favorite films of the year. One might even call it a near perfect film because of how well it orchestrates tension in each moment flawlessly. Part of this was thanks to an extremely confident director in Denis Villeneuve and a pulse-pounding score executed by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The new film, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, contains much of the same atmosphere as the first film, however, the story feels less certain of what it’s trying to say. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it’s a very frustrating experience for a sequel to a film that worked on its own.

Since it is the Monday after the opening weekend, I’ll be diving into Major SPOILERS. Feel free to skip to the end of the Spoiler discussion if you wish to avoid plot details.

The new film has all the major players from the previous film only this time there is no Emily Blunt. Some might argue that the film suffers without her presence, I would argue that her absence is the least of the film’s problems.

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This time the story takes on an issue most people debate about these days involving border control. At the start of the film, several Islamic terrorists get through the Mexican border thanks to the drug cartel. This results in some major stress-inducing sequences involving suicide bombings which will surely shock the audience. The CIA brings back Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to handle the situation and just like the first film, his plan is anything but pretty. It also makes little sense.

The CIA and Matt craft an elaborate scheme to kidnap a child of a cartel leader and make it look like a rival did it to start a war between cartels. At face value, the idea makes as much sense as going to war with Iraq because of  9/11. Why cause mass violence in Mexico instead of just attacking terrorism head on?

Sicario 2 — Photo credit: Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP — Acquired via EPK.TV
Sicario 2 — Photo credit: Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP — Acquired via EPK.TV /

Anyway, Matt brings back Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro)– the hitman from the first film– to help start a war with all the Mexican cartels, including the one that killed his family. Without a doubt, del Toro is the best part of the film and makes even the most absurd scenarios feel grounded. He continues to be the best part of this franchise.

The plan is successful, and they kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabella Moner)– who is the daughter of a Mexican mob boss. Shortly after, the film starts spiraling from something interesting to lazy franchise storytelling. Gillick and the CIA stage a rescue to make the girl think she has been rescued by the U.S. Government. They take her back across the Mexican border but on the way back they get ambushed by the Mexican federal police, which forces them to cause many deaths on Mexican soil. This also leaves Del Toro and Moner’s characters stranded in Mexico without help.

Towards the end of the film, we see del Toro forced to pretend to be an immigrant with the girl to cross back into the U.S., but he is recognized by a teenager. This results in his character being captured, restrained, and gagged.

At this moment, I thought the film was making a bold choice– the cartel makes a kid shoot del Toro in the head as a test of loyalty. The kid goes through with it and at that moment everyone in my theater was silent. If the film had chosen to stick to their guns by killing del Toro the social commentary on the film would have been a lot stronger. The kid that kills him seems very emotionally impacted by the choice as well, and at this point, the emotional weight of border violence feels powerful because not even the Sicario himself can survive it.

Sicario 2 — Photo credit: Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP — Acquired via EPK.TV
Sicario 2 — Photo credit: Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP — Acquired via EPK.TV /

Then, at the film’s finest hour, it backpedals everything and succumbs to the need of setting up a sequel. Del Toro’s character, Gillick, is alive and was shot through the jaw and not the head. He gets up and looks like hell. The film cuts to a year later, and he confronts the kid who shot him but not to get payback. To recruit him as a future Sicario.

Spoilers end.

All the events are strongly directed and well performed but the film ultimately suffers from the weight of its own screenplay. It’s very clear by the time the film wraps to a close that this property was never meant to be a franchise. Sicario should have remained as a standalone film. Taylor Sheridan is a tremendous writer but he just seemed to have nothing to say with this movie, and if he did it was very unclear.

There are some great aspects of Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It has spectacular performances from both Brolin and del Toro, as well as newcomer Isabella Moner. Some of the action sequences are just as compelling as the first film and can be seen as a companion to the border shootout from the first entry. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski does a fantastic job at trying to match the look and feel of Roger Deakins’s work in the first film. There’s a scene in a grocery store that is shot and staged brilliantly and will be stuck in your mind for weeks. It’s just very unfortunate that the screenplay does not deliver on the same level.

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Overall Thoughts

Sicario: Day of the Soldado has all the same tension and familiar atmosphere of the first entry but unfortunately lacks a coherent story dynamic that made the first feel so powerful. The film suffers from wanting to set up a third entry instead of having something genuine to say about the violence on Mexican soil. Brilliant technical moments and powerful acting aside, the scenarios depicted no longer feel as grounded or compelling.  It’s a sequel that suffers from not knowing what it’s trying to communicate which is unfortunate for a sequel to a film that had such a powerful message.