Ruthless CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his sociopathic best friend Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) return to Mexico to start a cartel war by kidnapping a mob boss’ daughter (Isabela Moner). After a handover goes wrong Gillick ends up stranded with the young cartel heiress and must navigate the harsh wilderness of the US-Mexico border. Along the way, they might just touch each other’s hearts, but will definitely murder some people.
Sicario (2015) was about an optimistic young hero savagely having the optimism drained away from her, leaving her broken and unable to do anything to stop the cycle of violence around her. Whilst Sicario 2 is suitably downbeat, there’s not quite the same condemnation of the main character’s extreme actions. The movie opens with two suicide bombings, one of which is very provocatively upsetting. Consequently the subsequent scene of enemy soldiers being callously snuffed out of existence has the feeling of vindication about it, a feeling that was brutally absent from the previous film. With America’s current administration this felt more than a little sinister. There is, however, a sequence where a human trafficker allows a parent to remain with their child. There are some lines those murderous drug cartels just won’t cross.
The action sequences of Sicario 2 are certainly abrupt and ferocious but also larger and more traditionally exciting. Denis Villeneuve built tension up to intense but short gun fights that usually only served to remind you of how fragile life is. There are far more action sequences in Stefano Solima’s film, with added explosions and even some heroics (a gag involving a car and a grenade is pretty memorable). There is a Nolanesque realism and smoothness to the aesthetic, especially when the camera is following various convoys as they slowly drive into ambushes (never drive in a line with more than one vehicle near the border).
The relationship between Sicario 2 and its predecessor recalls that of Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and the original First Blood. There’s more action, less nuance and the film gradually becomes more outlandish. It wouldn’t feel too out of place for the movie to conclude with Gillick storming into the treacherous CIA chief’s office and firing a massive machine gun into the air (though it is unlike him to waste bullets). What actually happens to Gillick is no less silly and inadvertently comical.
What made Sicario special was how it subverted the expectations of those hoping to see a traditional action thriller where the better equipped American force cleanly dispatched the scary villains. The heroes proved to be just as scary and the violence unfulfilling. Sicario 2: Soldado is, for better and worse, exactly that tradition action thriller where the better equipped American force cleanly dispatches the scary villains. It still has the Johanson’s droning soundtrack (care of his former lead cellist) and the upsetting topical gut-punches, but gone is the real grit, the almost supernatural bleakness at the heart of Villeneuve’s film.
Sicario 2 is exciting and thrilling in all the ways that Sicario was intentionally not. Marrying sleek action with the oppressive nihilistic atmosphere of the superior first film creates a slightly uneasy progeny that’s exciting, stylish and silly but hard to have any fun with.
2.5 / 5