2015’s Sicario was a film awash in moral ambiguity and politically motivated turpitude; its sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a film drowning in blood and testosterone. Gratuitously violent and narratively slipshod, Day of the Soldado abandons its predecessor’s ethical gray areas in favor of something cheaper, dirtier and lazier, ditching nuance in favor of unremitting bleakness. If the first film was a thought-provoking elegy, this unnecessary follow-up is little more than a labored grunt of resignation.
Much of what’s missing from Soldado comes down to Emily Blunt — not so much the actress herself (although her participation might have helped), but the presence of her character’s conflicted initiation into writer Taylor Sheridan’s world of nebulous allegiances and questionable motivations. Without the perspective of a character like Blunt’s Kate Macer to provide a rational counterpoint to the overblown machismo of Josh Brolin’s shady secret agent Matt Graver and Benicio Del Toro’s lawyer-turned-assassin Alejandro Gillick, Soldado becomes a one-note paean to the dangers of porous borders.
In the hands of Italian TV director Stefano Sollima, that danger seems to flow from North to South rather than vice versa. Sheridan’s script sets up an expansion of the war on terror to include the Mexican drug cartels, and Sollima starts things off with a literal bang. But Sollima doesn’t hold a candle to Denis Villeneuve, and where that director’s treatment of the subject was replete with inspired set pieces like walls full of corpses, the best Sollima can achieve is a relatively predictable humble ambush and a street-side kidnapping that could have been lifted from any number of heist movies.
Sollima’s proficient but uninspired direction aside, the real problem here is in Sheridan’s script. Despite his prodigious accomplishments in character development with 2016’s Hell or High Water, he seems to have abandoned all sense of subtlety in exchange for an overblown exercise in action movie mayhem, an unexpected failure from an otherwise talented writer. While Brolin and Del Toro are both as menacingly electrifying in their respective turns as they were the last time around, there’s far less for them to sink their teeth into with Soldado. Perhaps Sheridan’s most damning fault in this case is rooted in the film’s ending, which sets up a perfunctory sequel creating a trilogy where one film more than sufficed.
If Soldado falls short of its predecessor on stylistic and story terms, it also does so philosophically. Whereas the prior Sicario film encouraged viewers to consider the ramifications of narco state warfare from both sides of the border, Soldado seems to espouse a sort of ambivalent Trumpian paranoia; in Sheridan’s narrative world, the only thing stopping bad guys with guns are good guys with guns, except there are no good guys and everyone has guns. It’s a peculiar stance that absolutely undermines the entire point of the first film and leaves the next on shaky idealogical ground. I’m not sure which Soldado is having his titular day here, but I am sure that it’s a bad one.