Sicario 2: Soldado, directed by Stefano Sollima, makes some very daring choices from the beginning and throughout. For a multitude of reasons, I can see this film upsetting people, but for me, it was a bold film that stuck to its vision and delivered a solid sequel to what was a great film (Sicario). I didn’t think it possible to follow Denis Villeneuve’s unflinching vision with the first one, but Sollima makes a worthy attempt at doing so. He doesn’t completely nail it, but still, his time, and more importantly our time, was not wasted. So let’s make our way into the main review and see how this sequel shapes up, in better detail.
The drug war on the US-Mexico border has escalated to the point where the cartels are trafficking terrorists into the country; allowing them to commit heinous acts. Federal agent, Matt Graver – played by Josh Brolin – again seeks the help of Alejandor – played by Benicio Del Toro – to weed out and eliminate the threat.
I really enjoyed Sicario, but then that perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it was directed by Denis Villeneuve; one of the most consistently brilliant directors working right now. So, when a sequel was announced, and he wasn’t attached to direct, I was concerned. While there was still more story to tell with Sicario – primarily with the character of Alejandro, I still didn’t fully feel a sequel was necessary, or even a good idea. I’m happy to say that Sicario 2: Soldado quickly pushed aside any concerns I had and delivered a satisfying sequel that leaves me wanting more.
This is a film that from the very beginning grabs your attention. The opening to the film is like being slapped across the face and pulled into a situation you’re fearful to explore. It’s an opening that will surely stir debate; some will be angry, some will be shocked, but everyone will be paying attention. For me, that initial slap did exactly what was intended and had me fully attentive to everything it subsequently went in to show me. Despite a few issues (which I’ll be touching more on in a second) this film never lost my full attentiveness and it was one I was always interested to see where it might go next and how it would go about it.
But I am interested to see what the response to this film will be. There are some very bold choices made in this film. Choices that will not sit well with many people for a number of reasons. For me, the direction the film takes and how it goes about it, worked (mostly). It surprised me. It left me questioning its decisions (in a good way) and it had me loving the very unexpected ways in which it went about exploring its story. This is no conventional film and because of that, I think it will leave many audience goers feeling… uncomfortable… or … dissatisfied.
And beyond director Stefano Sollima and writer Taylor Sheridan’s bold choices is a film that smartly makes the effort to stick to the overall tone and atmosphere of the first. Sollima isn’t able to ever match the constant looming suspense that Denis Villeneuve so effortlessly delivered, but he makes up for it by having a visual voice that is able to form quite the impact. And the same can be said for cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski’s work. He does a good job of trying to continue the aesthetic of the first, but he simply isn’t able to match the incredible work of Roger Deakins – something that is perhaps impossible to do. Still, the work of the director and the cinematographer are worthy successors to the first film.
But Sollima is absolutely at his best when shooting action. There are moments in this film that rival the first. They don’t necessarily surpass the first film, but they still stand on their own as memorable, exciting moments. One of the aspects that I liked most about Sollima’s handling of the action was how clean and coherently it was all shot. There is no frantic cutting between shots; the camera isn’t being tossed around; it moves slowly, it moves deliberately, and you’re always situated right in the middle of it all. You feel the punch of the bullets, the wave from an explosion. You are enveloped by the cold, calculated violence and the adrenaline of the moment takes over and you’re pulled fully into an intense situation that leaves you wanting just a little bit more.
Sicario 2 is a film that never shies away from showing the harsh realities of life. Imagery that is shocking, actions that cause you to recoil in shock; Sollima points his camera towards the things we don’t want to think about; that we don’t want to see, and he makes us watch things that leave you shook. Like I said, this is a film that makes some bold choices.
An aspect that I found myself thinking about after seeing this film was how I would be really interested to see Sollima handed the reigns and given the opportunity to make an action film of his choosing. I think with how well he handles action, he could do something really exciting and something really memorable. Beyond the content of this film, Sollima has stood out to me as a director I’m intrigued to see more of, despite the issues that this film highlights concerning Sollima’s experience as a director.
It’s when the film needs to slow things down and tighten the focus on its characters that we see its director struggle. Sollima simply doesn’t have the ability to create the same kind of torturous tension that Villeneuve achieved in the first film, and so in the slower moments of the film, things feel as if they are bordering on grounding to a halt. The pacing suffers, and I can see your general audience’s attention drifting because of this. There were certainly a few moments where I could feel the film beginning to drag.
It wasn’t that big an issue for me, because of how technically sound the film was handled by Sollima and his team. My problem lay in the fact that in these slower moments the film never takes advantage of the rich characters at its disposal. While Sicario 2 offers a varying plot that had me engaged, while also sprinkling in some brilliant action, I feel it lets down the work that was put into the characters in the first film.
This surprises me because Taylor Sheridan returned to write the script and I felt his subtle but excellent exploration of the characters in the first film was a shining success and proof that he’s one of the most skilled writers in Hollywood at the moment – especially when it comes to his characters (just look at ‘Hell or High Water’ or Wind River’ for proof for that statement). And so I was surprised at how little I felt the central characters grew in this film. Very little to no development occurs for characters like Matt Graver or Alejandro, which is a shame because I think there are deep mines of rich development to be gotten from them. I’m not saying there is no evolution to the characters, it’s just I didn’t feel there was a significant shift that was worthy of the characters.
Despite the lack of character development though, Brolin and Del Toro still effortlessly command their scenes. The quiet, controlled nature of Del Toro is gravitational, while the loud, unpredictable nature in Brolin and his character is exciting. Both actors share the screen, and both come out showing how good they are at their profession. Though the hole left by Emily Blunt can be felt throughout the film.
All of this is encased in a plot that’s… interesting. Sicario 2 begins its story in one place; being propelled by a devastating inciting incident, but strangely half way through the film feels as if it shifts completely and becomes something else… something new. It forgets what started it on its path and commits fully to its new direction. I at first wasn’t that bothered, as I was really interested to see where it was going, but looking back, I would have liked it handled a little smoother, with a clearer understanding of where exactly this group of films is going in the future.
You see, Sicario 2 leaves much unanswered and pushes much of what it sets up towards the future for a third film to wrap up. This leaves this film feeling incomplete, and I can fully see it frustrating a general audience when much of what they have sat through and taken in is never concluded, instead having to wait for the next one. I think in the long-term it will pay off and result in a great trilogy, but right now, it does leave things floating in limbo – a limbo that could turn away people who are looking for something to satisfy them now.
Sicario 2 was a film that genuinely surprised me. From the beginning and throughout I was never fully sure of where it was going, and I was eager to find out. There are certainly elements to this film that I think hamper it and leave it trailing behind its predecessor. But… I feel this is a pretty good follow-up to the first film and it has me wanting more. I would very much like to see the team of Stefano Sollima and Taylor Sheridan return for the third as well – despite my issues with the film.
Sicario 2 will certainly divide audiences and I don’t foresee this film achieving the same acclaim that the first did, but I still think it’s a good film – a film that warrants its existence – and a film that left me thinking about it long after it was done.
I recommend, Sicario 2: Soldado. In a time of predictable, tedious blockbusters, perhaps consider going and seeing something that is slightly unconventional. This is a film that whether you like it or not, will certainly make some kind of impact on you.
I’d love to know what you thought of Sicario 2 and subsequently my review of it, so please feel free to leave any opinions or feedback you may have in the comments section down below. Also, it would be great if you were to consider following my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Anyway, I’ll bring things to close now by offering you my thanks for taking some of your time and dedicating it towards reading my review. Thank you!