Sicario 2: Soldado is a solid follow-up to the original film, if perhaps lacking something of the cold, steely edge of the original.
We return again to the world of the Mexican border and CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who has been tasked with bringing down the Mexican cartels by any means necessary when they are implicated in helping to smuggle suicide bombers across the border and into America. Assisting him in this is another familiar face from the original film, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), lawyer turned hitman who has more reasons than some to hate the cartels and what they stand for.
This film pulls no punches, with the opening few minutes slamming their message home that while the original Sicario‘s war on drugs might be over, there was a whole new kind of war to fight and the stakes were higher than ever. As Matt Graver says, things here will need to get “dirty” and that’s pressed home with unflinching brutality and by the end of the film it becomes clear that in this conflict there is no right or wrong, no good guys or bad, everyone equally dirty by the end, driven by their own particular agendas and beliefs. We’ve certainly come a long way from the stalwart American hero, standing up against the multitude of enemies with nothing but a bandana, rippling muscles and a huge gun to defend truth, justice and the American Way.
Stefano Sollima (Suburra, Gomorrah) has picked up the directorial reins from Denis Villeneuve and done an admirable job in continuing the story. The cinematography and production design continues this feel of everything being that little bit dirty, everything dusty and worn, the colours mostly muted to the point that the scenes over the glittering skyline of Mexico city seemed almost technicolour in comparison to the rest of the film. The combat scenes are short and visceral, the story moving smoothly from set piece to set piece with barely a moment to draw breath between them. Special praise needs to be reserved for the Mall scene which is one long tracking shot with not a single cut, holding you in the action to the very end.
Soundtrack duties are taken up by Hildur Guðnadóttir, the solo cellist from the first film, following the untimely passing of Sicario composer Johan Johannsson (who also brought us the sublime soundtrack to Arrival) and she retains the ominous, threatening three note motif from the original film’s soundtrack that some sites have dubbed “The Sicario Siren”. The score as a whole is harsh, tense, almost droning in places, and works well to amplify the tension that permeates every fibre of both of these films.
No Emily Blunt here, the leads are taken up by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and it’s interesting to see their characters grow, to find that for both men there are lines that even they will not cross regardless of the potential consequence. Special credit also needs to be given to Isabela Moner who plays Isabel Reyes. She perfectly captures that childish bravado and insecurity of a teenager, veering from brash confidence to bleak-eyed terror as she begins to understand just what kind of world her father inhabits. It’s a shame her character isn’t given more chances to shine as she is shuffled from pillar to post, from one group to another, only really being allowed to react rather than act with any real agency. There are rumours of a third Sicario film being planned and it would be good to see her back again and given a chance to shine.
While perhaps not being as brutally uncompromising as the original, and slightly tainted by a sequel-bait-ish ending that stretches the audience disbelief just a teeny bit, Sicario 2: Soldado is a worthy successor to the original in every way. Fans of the original should definitely watch it, fans of action movies should watch it and fans of Del Toro or Brolin should watch it as you will certainly not be disappointed by their performances.