1. If the original Sicario had not existed, I bet we’d all give Sicario: The Day of the Soldado a lot more slack. The original Denis Villeneuve film wasn’t perfect, but it had that director’s sense of scope and moral ambiguity, and it knew how to deliver the goods in the moment even if it didn’t ultimately add up to all that much. This one, directed by Italian television director Stefano Sollima and written by Hell or High Water’s Taylor Sheridan (who also wrote the first film), doesn’t have that film’s ambition, but it doesn’t want it: It wants to be a sleek, raw, muscular drug thriller in which big burly dudes growl at each other in the midst of an escalating drug war in which everyone is implicated and everyone is guilty. It doesn’t demand to be taken for much more than that, and if you’re able to accept it as that—as tough dudes posturing and being badass—you’ll find plenty to wallow around in here. But that Sicario name lingers, like an ancestor whose family name you need but don’t desire to live up to. It’s better the less you think about the first movie at all.
2. Three characters return from the original, though you might only recognize one of them. Jeffrey Donovan (whom I don’t remember from the first film at all) is back as the assistant to hard-bitten federal agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, who is even more bulked up from the first film and is becoming increasingly inextricable from Thanos). This time, after an opening sequence that ties the drug trade and border patrol issues from the first film—and, you know, real life—to an act of terrorism (that’s so vividly and frighteningly portrayed that it’s a little annoying how little it matters to the film as a whole), the duo gets a green light from the feds to declare the Mexican drug cartels terrorist organizations. That allows them to “get dirty,” as Graver puts it, so they put together a plan to stir up the cartels into fighting with each other so that they can put the full force of the American military into taking them down. Though the full force of the military in the context of this movie means bringing back Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro from the first film, the mournful, relentless assassin who seems to specialize in shooting a gun incredibly fast.
3. Their plan is to kidnap the daughter (Isabela Moner) of the main cartel head, and it will not give you much more faith in the full force of the American military than you already have to learn that the plan goes to shit relatively quickly. The movie then becomes a balance of these too men, Graver and Alejandro, both ruthless murderers but each doing it for a cause that they see as just, or at least can convince themselves remains so. Unfortunately, Alejandro’s cause becomes a familiar one, one you’ve seen in countless action movies: A lost soul attempting to find his salvation by protecting a young girl. Alejandro might be an efficient killer, but we just saw this in Logan and dozens of other movies. This film doesn’t have much new to add to the formula.
4. There’s another subplot involving a young Latino boy who lives in the United States by the border but is called into a life of crime, but it’s mostly an unnecessary red herring. The movie is at its strongest when it’s focusing on Del Toro and Brolin, who are raw and coarse like an old leather belt. Del Toro had the flashier role in the first film, but he dials it back here; he sells the old killer’s desire for redemption, even if the movie’s heart is only halfway in it. Brolin goes the opposite direction, letting his eyes go dead, a man who has less lost his way than he has decided to respond to everything being lost by trying to destroy whatever’s left. Sheridan has a skill at writing these sort of defeated men’s men, and the movie’s primary emotional throughline is the begrudging, but undeniable, respect they have for each other. One wonders if a theoretical third film could essentially be Border Heat.
5. The movie’s action is no-nonsense, no-frills explosions and machine gun stuff, and it lacks the soaring vision of Villeneuve; Sollima is much more of a plunge-forward linear filmmaker. That approach has its advantages, though, and while I wouldn’t have wanted Sollima to try to tackle some of the thornier ethical issues of the first film, he’s more than capable of rampaging through and past them here. He seems like he could have a nice little career as a director of basic, competent action movies: He’s certainly made one here. What you remember from the first film makes you want to attach more meaning to this film than is actually here. It’s best to forget all of it. This is a roll-your-sleeves-up action film, and if it didn’t have the Sicario name, that probably would be enough. If they make a third film, we’ll know, now, not to expect too much next time.
Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.