Sicario 2 Borders On Being In Bad Taste

by Ben Martin

There are plenty of movies you never thought would have a sequel. But, for better or worse, they did anyway. Prime examples of unexpected and mostly unnecessary sequels include: The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Grease 2 (1982), The Two Jakes (a sequel to Chinatown) (1990), Basic Instinct 2 (2006), and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) are among some of the more notorious and negligible follow-ups.
Sicario (2015) is another one of these films that I would not expect to receive the sequel treatment. Perhaps this was because I thought the movie was nothing more than decent; while others found Sicario to be Oscar worthy and one of that year’s best films. More to the point, I feel that Sicario is an open and closed story. Despite the movie’s financial and critical success, I was still surprised when a sequel and ultimately a proposed trilogy to the film was announced.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (once again written by Taylor Sheridan), tells yet another tale of the perpetual war on drugs and the perils of the U.S.–Mexico border. After an illegal border crossing results in a violent terrorist attack; F.B.I. Agent, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is called in. Graver’s task is to regain control of the border while starting yet another war with the cartels. To achieve his mission, Graver once again recruits  Medellin Sicario, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). In addition to helping Graver start a war, Alejandro will be able to continue his wrath of vengeance.

As a sequel, Day of the Soldado does one thing right. The film matches the bleak tone of its predecessor. In keeping, it also lacks much, if any morality. Most importantly though, this sequel pulls the proverbial rug out from you. As with the original, Day of the Soldado starts as one film type of film and becomes another one from the second act forward. Despite keeping up with the established narrative and thereby, the tone of its universe,  this is an inferior film in every way.

This film’s most glaring issue is that the story it tells seems to be one of opportunity and not one of passion. Such a fact was never more apparent to me than in the movie’s opening sequence. Without going into detail, the opening is brutal, to the point of being exploitative in the worst way possible. Brutal violence and even more brutal stereotypes propel this picture’s first act; to the point where I felt like I was watching a Fox News pundit get all their views re-enforced. Hell, I could nearly hear Trump’s derogatory slurs and overall attitudes toward immigrants ring aloud throughout this portion this narrative. This struck me as being in bad taste to the point of being irresponsible in its opportunism.

Of course, it doesn’t help that this sequel doesn’t possess much of a moral center. At least in the first film, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) served as a figure of morality for the audience. Well, that character and Blunt’s presence is terribly absent this time around. Even though Blunt was initially going to reprise her role as Macer, that plan was ultimately scrapped. Why? Because new director Stefano Sollima (Suburra) decided that he did not want the film in review to have “A moral compass.” Much to my chagrin, Sheridan concurred and excised the character from his screenplay.
Instead, what little morality this movie is left with is late to the party. While it’s possible that some may see the new character of Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner) as such a moral figure; I can’t say that I do. Instead, any moral guidance that Reyes could provide gets lost in a cavalcade of carnage. Though, it should be noted that Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) delivers a wonderfully layered performance. The morality the eventually does become present in this picture isn’t surprising or expected. To the contrary, it’s needed to provide any sort of dim light in the underground tunnel that is Day of the Soldado.

For all my criticisms thus far though, the film in review does have one saving grace. That being that the second half of this movie is a tense and entertaining kidnapping thriller. Despite myself, I found this latter half of Sicario 2 to be reasonably engrossing. Then again, it helps that I like characters who are bastards. No doubt, our protagonists, Alejandro and Graver certainly fit that bill. Though, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that this incredibly talented cast ability to make Sheridan’s thin characters more watchable.

Day of the Soldado is also a competently made piece of cinema. However, unlike the first film, the filmmaking here does not elevate the narrative; it merely serves it. Initially, director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins were going to return for this film. Alas, do their commitment to Blade Runner 2049 (2017) said return proved impossible. As a result, Villeneuve and Deakins’ command and style of their respective crafts are sorely missed here.
In the end, Sicario: Day of the Soldado becomes an entertaining kidnapping thriller and crime-drama. That is if you’re able to stomach the deplorable first act of the picture. If you liked the characters from the previous entry,  give this movie a go. However, I think you might find that it’s an inferior follow-up. More to the point, I’ll reiterate, it’s opportunistic to the point of being in bad taste. This film is a double-edged sword in that it’s been simultaneously released at the best and worst times, considering its content. I only hope that this film will go down as a depiction of a terrible time in international relations after they’ve improved. Not a crime-drama that plays like a hard-right documentary until the end of time.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is IN THEATERS NOW!

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