Director: Stefano Sollima
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner
Watch Sicario 2 online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Immigration. Children separated from their parents. Smuggling people across the US-Mexico border. This might sound like a string of headlines, but they’re ripped from the news to form the building blocks of Sicario 2, a tough, rough, gruff sequel to 2015’s superbly intense action thriller. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, that followed idealistic FBI agent Macer (Emily Blunt), who found herself mired in the increasingly corrupt compromises made by government forces attempting to take down drug cartels. It was a blistering blockbuster, the kind with blisters on its blisters, and this unlikely follow-up doesn’t waste time trying to grow even more blisters on top of those.
There’s a limit, though, to how many blisters anyone can tolerate, and Sicario 2: Soldado (or Day of the Soldado, in the USA) struggles to find the right balance between scorching drama with a point and drama that scorches for the sake of it. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the first film, returns once again to continue the franchise, but he’s one of the few to do so, and that lack of recurring players occasionally shows. Most notable of all is the lack of Emily Blunt, whose Macer provided us with a window onto this shadowy world. Without her in the lead role, Sheridan’s script has to shift two other figures into the position of protagonist, and it’s a shift that makes this a more explicitly right-wing tale – and, more pointedly, strips the tale of humanity beyond the hard-hitting action.
Sheridan and director Stefano Sollima kick off events with a bombing in a supermarket that sets the tone as unflinching. It’s that attack that leads to the murky Agent Graver (Josh Brolin) and even murkier Agent Foards (Catherine Keener) to try and close down human trafficking by the Mexican cartels, which Isis is apparently exploiting to get their troops into the US – and the government to reclassify the cartels as terrorist groups, so that even more moral lines can be crossed. Who you gonna call when you need to cross a moral line? Benicio Del Toro, of course, and his mercenary, the eponymous Sicario (actual name Alejandro), makes a barn-storming return to our screens, hired by Graver to cause havoc across the border and get the cartels to fight among each other.
Top of the havoc list? Kidnapping Isabela (Isabela Moner), the daughter of cartel leader Reyes. It’s a task that Alejandro gladly takes on, given his own thirst for revenge against Reyes, but it’s also one that goes awry, leaving him looking after the young girl. In a tiny display of humanity, he wants to save her and get across to America to safety, but that goes against the wider plan, and so the stage is set for a more conventional rogue-lone-wolf action thriller than you might expect. It’s a shame, after the more striking Sicario, to get a sequel that follows traditional beats with less purpose; there’s no real critique of what’s going on, instead giving the endeavour a presumed, polished endorsement of everything the USA is plotting.
Nonetheless, the set pieces are well constructed – Sollima is a veteran of the Gomorrah TV series and knows how to stage action as slickly as it comes. The absence of Roger Deakins’ visuals and Johann Johannsson’s score leaves the atmosphere a notch down from Sicario’s first outing, but Del Toro’s glowering presence is as compelling as ever, particularly when his hitman is given the chance to hint at having some depth. That depth, though, may not really be explored until the third film, which is set up by an ending that seems to admit this sequel is a shallower affair, despite its headline-grabbing plot points. It trades that in favour of introducing a fresh dose of intrigue to this burgeoning franchise. There’s certainly a commendably high standard of action to maintain – you just hope that the trilogy’s concluding entry will live up to its topical potential with something a little weightier. Sicario 2: Soldado hits hard, and hits fast, but it doesn’t always hit home.