Sicario 2: Soldado Review
Who are we starting a war with? Everyone!
The sequel to Villeneuve's sleeper hit expands the first film's tense thrills into all-out gang war, with Benicio del Toro reaping the whirlwind in Sicario 2.Before wowing audiences with his sci-fi skills in the mind-bending Arrival and the superior sequel, Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve delivered the surprisingly excellent Sicario, a sleeper hit that ostensibly posited Emily Blunt as the front-and-centre heroine of a tale of cross-border FBI investigations but performed a wondrous sleight-of-hand to reveal that the man at the back of the room - Benicio del Toro's mysterious consultant - was the real focal point.
Unfortunately commitment to both of those sci-fi features left Villeneuve unable to return to direct the highly anticipated sequel that nobody saw coming, likely pushed into production largely as a result of the understandable love that audiences had for del Toro's uber-cool character from the first film.
The highly anticipated sequel that nobody saw coming.
Thankfully Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Hell or High Water) returns for duties here, dropping Emily Blunt's protagonist from the first film (whose character arc had arguably run its course) to focus instead on del Toro's far more interesting sicario - hitman - as he re-teams with Josh Brolin's shady CIA spook to spark a Cartel war south of the border.
With Cartel's supposedly smuggling terrorists north of the border, Brolin's spook is given carte blanche to start an inter-gang war, hatching a plan to kidnap the child of one of the kingpins and make it look as if it was done by a rival cartel. A plan involving del Toro's sicario, of course.
Having Sheridan back to do the screenplay, and the late, great composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (who did all of Villeneuve's work so far, including Blade Runner 2049) replaced by his collaborator and cello soloist on Sicario, Hildur Guðnadóttir, almost compensates for the lack of Villeneuve himself, with Gomorrah director Stefano Sollima cutting his teeth on his first US production by cleverly electing to follow the line of imitation being the best form of flattery.
Sicario 2 flows effortlessly from the same spring as its predecessor.
Indeed there's no denying that, for better and worse, Sicario 2 flows effortlessly from the same spring as its predecessor, feeling very much a continuation of - and expansion on - the first film, and marrying up the tone, style, cinematography (regular Ridley Scott collaborator Dariusz Wolski - who shot the hell out of Prometheus - stepping in for Roger Deakins and also framing it in the same way), as well as the music, characterisations and dark subject matter.
Of course the downside to all of this is that it is, very clearly, just a middle chapter in a franchise that nobody ever expected, which is all good and well if we get a further film (or two) but, if we don't, it's just not a particularly well resolved conclusion. This is not necessarily a bad thing (films from Empire Strikes Back to Infinity War have gained considerable acclaim despite their open endings) but Sheridan hasn't even written a complete script here, with the film feeling very much like the first two hours in a four or five our narrative, and with none of the multiple arcs tied off satisfactorily.
Once you get past the fact that the most unlikely of franchises, Sicario, has succumbed somewhat to commercialism, you can also embrace - and perhaps even celebrate - the fact that a film like this even has a franchise. Not Transformers; not Mamma Mia - a limited budget, relatively independent flick which carried little to no clout but made a surprise return and was chosen to be made into a bigger saga. Who knows, this could turn into the unlikely Godfather of Cartel franchises.
Of course the real Godfather is Benicio del Toro's mystery man, who everybody knows as 'that attorney' and whose character arc is about as unpredictable as you'd expect from him, with the shady assassin given a more fleshed-out backstory (courtesy of some nice little exposition-less interludes in sign language which feel more authentic than the whole of The Shape of Water) and his CIA counterpart even afforded a hint of morality despite the moral quagmire than they both wantonly traverse.
This could turn into the unlikely Godfather of Cartel franchises.
Whilst the initial back-plotting, with slimy senators (Matthew Modine) and Government jobsbodies (Catherine Keener), could be ripped straight out of a Bourne sequel, del Toro and Brolin retain their cool under fire, elevating the film with small mannerisms, sad looks or almost imperceptible tears in their eyes. And supporting characters like Goliath's Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and young newcomer Isabela Moner (a work away from Transformers: The Last Knight) flesh out the gritty thriller.
Aside from the excellent characterisations for the core players (you could watch del Toro being this cool all day long), Sicario 2 trades in the same powerful tense ambush setpieces that defined the first movie, with some electric skirmishes that come out of nowhere and just about every trip across the border building in tension. Reminiscent of the once benchmark for urban tactical assaults - Clear and Present Danger - the action sequences in this are superior, with plenty of shock twists along the way to remind you that we're very much in the same dark territory as the first tale.
Indeed Sheridan and Sollima have done well to make this such a fluid sequel, so much so that - should they be able to persuade him between working on Dune and perhaps even another Blade Runner - Villeneuve could even return to helm the third movie (if they made one) and the entire trilogy would likely feel as one complete whole. Assuming, as one might hope is more likely than not, they make a further film, this one makes a hell of middle chapter.
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