Wander into a cinema in 2018 and you won’t need to look too far down the list of showings to see a sequel or two. Or even eight. It seems that we’re in a period of peak laziness for the industry at the moment. Every other film that comes our way is either a sequel, a remake or part of a wider ongoing franchise. It makes sense, of course. If the concept is tried and tested, it’s less likely to be a flop. We get it.
Pretty much all of these sequels or franchises are a certain type of film, though. Superhero, generally. Or science fiction. Or kids’ flicks. Rarely will made-for-adult dramas or thrillers get follow-ups these days. So it was something of a surprise when Lionsgate announced in autumn of 2015 that they’d be making a sequel to Taylor Sheridan and Denis Villeneuve’s brutal Mexican drug cartel thriller, Sicario. Something of a welcome surprise.
Sicario didn’t really end on a cliffhanger exactly or leave too many people expecting a follow-up. It works perfectly as a standalone thriller, so it makes sense that Sicario 2: Soldado refuses to pick up directly after the events of the first film and decides instead to use the same tone, setting and characters (minus one) to tell a different, albeit not entirely dissimilar, story.
This more episodic approach to proceedings allows us to not once wonder where Emily Blunt’s character from the first Sicario is; we know she’s not involved anymore. Still very much in the mire of bullets, dust and border town cartel warfare though are the two male leads from the first outing – Josh Brolin’s hard-nosed CIA spook Matt Graver and the Colombian attorney-turned-avenger Alejandro Gillick (the brilliant Benicio del Toro).
The pair team up once again to pull off a false flag operation in which they kidnap a drug kingpin’s teenage daughter in order to start a war among the cartels. The reason they’ve been given such an extreme task being that the US government suspects the cartels of helping to smuggle Islamist terrorists across the border into Texas. The plan, almost inevitably, goes awry and people die. Setting into motion plans in which more people have to die. Seriously, a lot of folks die in these films. Hey, ‘Sicario’ means hitman, after all. What can we expect…?
There is no innocence. We have only the stark reality of bad people doing bad things and good people doing bad things in return.
One of the film’s more disturbing plot threads sees the seduction of a young kid by the human trafficking wing of one of the cartels. Elijah Rodriguez is excellent as Miguel Hernandez, a young teenager swayed by money and the lure of the lifestyle and choosing to shun his doting mother and younger sister in favour of becoming a gangster.
While we don’t exactly wonder where Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macer is, we do miss her a little – or what she brought to the original Sicario, at least, which was an element of humanity. We saw the insanely violent world of sicario hitmen, bodies hidden in walls, people hanging from bridges, all that madness through her innocent eyes. In Soldado, though? There is no innocence. We have only the stark reality of bad people doing bad things and good people doing bad things in return. Even the impressive Isabel Moner as Isabel Reyes – the snatched girl – is robbed of the glint in her eye by the end. Such is the horror she’s seen. Perhaps, though, that’s intentional. This is a dirty, dirty world.
We also miss director Denis Villeneuve a tad too. Stefano Sollima of Suburra fame is a capable and adequate replacement for him here, but Sollima doesn’t quite stamp quite his own mark on Soldado as Blade Runner 2049 helmsman Villeneuve did in the original. Sollima retains the hard-boiled style and the uncompromising violence and style. But whereas the first Sicario film felt like a genuine drama with elements of action pumped in, its sequel comes across more like an action movie with some drama sprinkled over the top.
If you’re looking for a further studied examination of how the US government approaches ‘the War on Drugs’, then Sicario 2: Soldado might let you down. This isn’t so much an actual sequel as a kind of spiritual successor. There’s a notable lack of insight or moral here. There’s no subtext. It’s no exposé. A few scenes apart, it’s mostly Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro looking cool and shooting machine guns in the desert. Not that that can’t make for an entertaining two hours, of course.
Have you seen Sicario 2: Soldado yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!