Sicario: Day of the Soldado is not a happy film. Granted, neither was Sicario. But in the follow up to Denis Villenueve’s 2015 film, director Stefano Sollima and writer, Taylor Sheridan make it a point to lean a little bit more into the hopelessness of this particular world, and viewers might come away from it a little broken. It’s a great film, just not a great time.
Soldado follows returning cast members Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as they attempt to start a war between Mexican cartels south of the border. Following a suicide bombing inside a Kansas supermarket – an absolutely gut wrenching and nausea inducing sequence, I might add – the US government responds by bringing in their resident demon in khakis, Matt Graver (Brolin). The evidence suggests that the bombers had cut across the border from Mexico with the aide of one of the cartels and Graver’s tasked with bringing down the organizations involved by any means necessary (without the sign of US involvement, naturally). To do so, Graver recruits old pal Alejandro (Del Toro) into the mix. The plan? To kidnap the daughter of one of the cartel bosses and start a war. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
Given Villenueve’s departure after the first film, many (myself included) were a little concerned with how a second film would work without the famed director behind the camera. Thankfully, Sheridan returns with a script as dark as night and and nary an ounce of optimism in sight. Gone is the naivety and innocence of Emily Blunt’s character, instead replaced with players who have been knee deep in the game for a long time. Where Sicario was about examining a bad situation through a somewhat idealistic lens, Soldado is about making that bad situation much worse. It doesn’t necessarily have the same “staring into the abyss” quality the first film had, but it’s still there, lingering in its DNA. The tension continues to hang over the heads of the audience, and there’s a sense of glee from Sheridan and Sollima when they twist the knife into us just a little bit more. There’s slightly more focus on action sequences in Soldado, no doubt as a way to make the subject matter a little more accessible to a wider audience, but it’s never exploitative. It’s stark, often times brutal and revenge this time is not as sweet. There is no “time to meet God” sense of catharsis, and any relief we do get is quickly subdued by a sense of numbness.
Brolin is as charismatic as ever, a man who tries his utmost for you to hate him, but you can’t help but like if only a little. Del Toro’s character is a little more healed. In Sicario his wounds felt fresh, but enough time has passed that his soul is now scarred but remains his subdued self all the same. Even when charged with protecting the cartel boss’ daughter (a wonderfully fierce Isabela Moner), while we see slight flickers of emotion, they quickly sink back inward.
With the shift of focus from the drug trade to people smuggling, Soldado can’t be classed as escapism. And it’s not necessarily a film one watches for fun. But, if you’re willing to venture into the abyss once more and come out a little more broken than last time, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is very easily a worthy sequel to its predecessor and worth your time.