What would have simply sufficed as Soldado was first changed to Sicario 2: Soldado and then to Sicario: Day of the Soldado in a desperate attempt by the studio to increase the film’s box-office potential by cashing in on the original’s success. However, despite bearing all the hallmarks of a straight-to-DVD feature, there is a certain quality to it that makes it a worthy instalment to a film that never needed another follow-up in the first place, thus giving birth to one of the most unlikely of all franchises.
There were few things about Sicario that really stood out for me, such as Denis Villeneuve’s tactful direction, Taylor Sheridan’s taut screenplay, Roger Deakins’ splendid cinematography, Emily Blunt’s stellar rendition & Jóhann Jóhannsson’s tense score to name a few. For this film, only one of the aforementioned people return. Just like last time, Sheridan weaves together a raw, intense & gripping plot but without any moral compass to guide this time, the story is granted the freedom to run amok.
The story of Sicario: Day of the Soldado follows CIA agent Matt Graver who is summoned by the U.S. government after a series of terrorist bombings rock the nation. Allowed complete authority to combat the Mexican drug cartels who are suspected of smuggling the terrorists across the border and after concluding that their best option would be to instigate a war between the major cartels, Graver recruits black operative Alejandro Gillick for the mission but things become all the more complicated when the daughter of a top kingpin is abducted.
Directed by Stefano Sollima, Soldado is more like a stand-alone spin-off than an actual sequel and finds the director trying to emulate the tone & feel of Denis Villeneuve’s film instead of adding something of his own making into the final print. While the subplot concerning Graver & Gallick is mostly compelling, the other subplot following some random kid is included for no reason other than its predecessor having a side story too. Also, despite opening on an impressive note, the film fails to carve its own path and serves entirely under the shadow of its far superior predecessor.
Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay packs a tightly-knitted plot that’s grim & gritty throughout but with no Kate Macer to separate the right from wrong this time around, the film goes full ‘Murica as we see Graver & his team entering a foreign nation to deliberately start a war on their soil, and refusing to back down even when all the evidence points towards their own backyard regarding the events that sets this plot into motion. Add to that, the absence of policing aspect also hurts our emotional investment in Graver & Gallick, for both these characters are unworthy of it and lack any redeeming qualities.
Coming to the technical aspects, Soldado tries to mimic the original’s atmosphere down to a tee but it still fails to replicate the tense vibe & nail-biting aura that permeated the first film from beginning to end. However, what it puts up is still serviceable though, whether it’s the controlled camerawork, earthy colour tones, fine editing, steady pacing or pulsating score, all of which bear resemblance to Sicario at least on the outside. As for the performances, both Benicio del Toro & Josh Brolin return to reprise their roles and deliver strong inputs while the new additions fail to leave any sort of lasting impression.
On an overall scale, Sicario: Day of the Soldado may not add anything meaningful to the saga but it doesn’t harm the legacy of the original either. As unnecessary as it may seem, it still does enough to qualify as a worthy follow-up and is well capable of standing on its own. But it is also emotionally distant by not giving the audience something to root for, because of which we never really care about anything that unfolds in this tale. Where Villeneuve’s film contemplated on the darkness of human behaviour, Soldado simply embraces that darkness and just runs with it. All in all, this crime thriller is no genre classic by any means but it nonetheless makes for one rough, ruthless & roguish ride that’s worth a shot.