Day of the Soldado is a competent thriller but, without the original Sicario's artistic flourishes and substance, it's somewhat forgettable.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a quasi-sequel/spinoff to Sicario that's missing several key ingredients from director Denis Villeneuve's original crime/thriller. Emily Blunt did not reprise her role as FBI agent Kate Mercer for the followup, nor did Villeneuve, director of photography Roger Deakins, or the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson contribute behind the camera on the film. Moreover, with Kate out of the picture, Day of the Soldado shifts its focus squarely onto U.S. government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his deadly "asset", Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). Unfortunately, this approach results in a film that doesn't feel like a particularly necessary continuation of the Sicario franchise. Day of the Soldado is a competent thriller but, without the original Sicario's artistic flourishes and substance, it's somewhat forgettable.
Day of the Soldado's narrative is set in motion when the U.S. government discovers that the Mexican cartels are (seemingly) smuggling terrorists across the border. The CIA thus reaches out to Graver, who has an idea for a solution that will require him to get his hands truly "dirty". Namely, Graver wants to kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the teenaged daughter of infamous cartel head Carlos Reyes, and blame it on another major cartel, in order to instigate a war between them. After being given the green-light, Graver reaches out to his old pal Alejandro, to help him carry out the mission.
At first, everything goes according to plan, leaving Isabela clueless about her kidnappers' true identity. However, nothing is that simple, and eventually the mission goes off the rails, separating Isabela and Alejandro from Graver and the rest of his team. This in turn forces Alejandro to make a choice: either carry out his new orders like a good "Soldado" or help Isabela - the daughter of the man who took everything from him.
Day of the Soldado, like the first Sicario, was written by Taylor Sheridan and blends pulpy crime genre tropes with neo-western elements and social commentary on the unending cycle of violence at the U.S./Mexico border. However, unlike the first Sicario, Day of the Soldado doesn't have a simple yet clear throughline guiding it, nor does it weave together its various story threads (including, a subplot about a teenaged boy who starts making a living by smuggling people across the border) in a seamless manner. The film is certainly more ambitious than the average thriller in its storytelling intentions, but it lacks precision when it comes to actually making a clear statement. As a result, its grueling violence and brutality doesn't pack much of an emotional punch, and comes off as being exploitative more than meaningful.
Similarly, the Sicario sequel/spinoff is a noticeable step down from the first movie in terms of craftsmanship. Director Stefano Sollimo (A.C.A.B., Suburra) does a solid job overall, yet none of the film's set pieces or action scenes are especially memorable in terms of their design. Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is similarly respectable, but is far less striking visually than Deakins' work on the first movie, and also lacks the sharp color palette that Wolski used to bring the U.S./Mexico border to life in Ridley Scott's The Counselor. Day of the Soldado further draws on its predecessor's iconography, though without the sense of atmosphere and deliberate pacing to lend them equal dramatic weight. It's still a perfectly decent-looking film on the whole - just one that fails to reach (much less clear) the bar set for this franchise.
Since they don't have to share screen time with Blunt, del Toro and Brolin get to explore new aspects of their respective characters in the Sicario followup, and their roles here are better fleshed out for it. Moner as Isabela gets some development as well, and the young character is typically authentic when it comes to her emotional behavior - though the bond she forms with Alejandro never fully rings true. Day of the Soldado's supporting cast also includes seasoned character actors like Catherine Keener, Shea Whigham, and Matthew Modine (along with Sicario actor Jeffrey Donavan), all of whom do their part to elevate the sequel. Problem is, they tend to be stuck playing paper-thin cliches that serve to keep the plot rolling along, but not much beyond that.
On a deeper level, the main problem with Day of the Soldado is that it already feels a bit outdated, even arriving just three years after the first Sicario. The film simply doesn't have much to add to its predecessor's sociopolitical observations - which some critics found to be questionable and dubious, even back in 2015. Day of the Soldado does steer clear of on the nose references to real-world developments and politics (with one exception), as it aims for something less specific and more universal with its political subtext. However, in a time when the world seems to be changing faster than usual, the Sicario sequel needed to be more forward-thinking, if it was going to add something relevant and challenging to the bigger discussion it's tapping into.
All in all, Siario: Day of the Soldado is a middle of the road offering that never really justifies turning Sicario into a franchise, from a storytelling perspective. The violent world of Sicario isn't any friendlier in the followup, yet its ability to shock has diminished in Day of the Soldado. Those moviegoers who really enjoyed Villeneuve's film should find enough to appreciate about Sollimo's sequel/spinoff, but for those who walked away from the first Sicario feeling like they had spent sufficient time in that universe, the second chapter isn't mandatory viewing. That said, there are tentative plans to make Sicario 3 and Day of the Soldado does leave the door open for that to happen. Here's to hoping the potential trilogy concluder has something fresher and more unexpected to bring to the table.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 122 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language.
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- Sicario: Day of the Soldado/Sicario 2 (2018) release date: Jun 29, 2018