2015’s Sicario is a thriller masterpiece from one of the best directors working right now, Denis Villeneuve, who also brought us Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Alongside unbelievably tense set pieces, it also had complex characters and deeper moral and political issues to think about. It’s sequel, Day of the Soldado, doesn’t really have any of that (besides less tense but still solid set pieces) and it may be one of the most unnecessary sequels ever made.
After a devastating suicide bombing attack in Kansas City where it seems like the Mexican cartels played a part in smuggling the terrorists into the country, the Secretary of Defense, James Riley (Matthew Modine), recruits CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to do whatever it takes to strike back against the cartels. Graver reunites with his sicario asset Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) and they come up with a scheme to pit the two major cartels against each other in a war by attacking both in ways that makes it look like the other side did it, including kidnapping Isabella Reyes (Isabella Moner), the daughter of Carlos Reyes (the man who ordered Alejandro’s family killed). There’s also a subplot involving Miguel, a Mexican-American teenager who joins his cousin in a gang that is smuggling immigrants across the border. Day of the Soldado is much more straightforward and rote than its predecessor and it falls into a number of cliches, like the hitman getting turned on by the organization that hired him or Alejandro essentially turning Isabella into his surrogate daughter. The first movie did an incredible job of making you never sure of anything because we were following Emily Blunt’s Kate, who was as much in the dark as we were. Day of the Soldado is much less elegant and things like how Miguel’s storyline ties into the main plot are just clunky, especially the bizarre non-ending ending of the movie that is less ambiguous and more frustrating. The whole movie also feels like a reset and barely acknowledges anything from Sicario, especially not the reveal of how monstrous Matt and Alejandro really are, and you could watch this one without any prior knowledge of Sicario and be completely fine (although this one is so inferior to the original I don’t know why on Earth you would do that).
Despite the flaws in plot, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are still great as always, even if their characters are nowhere near as interesting or complex as Sicario. Alejandro was such a wild card in the first film, protective one minute and then brutal the next and Matt revealed himself to be as big a monster as the cartel bosses he was hunting. Things are much more homogenized here and there’s some really annoying attempts to “soften” their character now that they are the leads and they both make decisions that runs completely contrary to the points the first film hit with them. On the other hand though, there is a fantastic little scene where it’s revealed Alejandro’s daughter was deaf and he bonds with a Mexican farmer who is also deaf and gets shelter for himself and Isabella. Jeffrey Donovan makes his welcome return from the first movie as Steve and gets much more to do and Matthew Modine is in full on slimy Stranger Things mode as the Secretary of Defense. Catherine Keener also joins the cast as Cynthia Foards, Matt’s handler at the CIA, but she is bizarrely terrible and I don’t know if it’s the script and/or direction but she’s usually great and her performance here is jarringly bad.
Day of the Soldado also has some solid action sequences, including a great one midway through as Matt and Alejandro’s convoy transporting Isabella is attacked and there’s tons of stylish flourish, including overhead satellite views and 360 pan around inside a humvee getting shot up. It’s not the throat clenching tension of the border crossing from the first movie but it’s a very solid sequence. There’s bits of brutal violence throughout and that seems to be where director Stefano Sollima works best and it bodes fairly well for the Call of Duty movie he’s signed on for as well.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is probably one of the most unnecessary sequels ever made but it’s also a solid thriller and anchored by two fantastic actors. It doesn’t have any of the complexity or tension of the first Sicario and really doesn’t have any meaningful connection at all. If you haven’t seen Sicario, watch that, as it’s superior in every way but if you have and are simply looking for another solid thriller in that vein, Day of the Soldado is fine but you probably don’t need to rush out to theaters to see it.