Several red flags popped up when the sequel to 2014’s Sicario was announced, chief amongst which being the apprehension-triggering absence of director Denis Villeneuve, veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins and the late, great composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. The sum of their collaborative efforts was a dauntingly immersive and uncommonly layered narc thriller that grappled with issues of morality centred around the US / Mexican border. Additionally, the self-contained story boasted Emily Blunt’s always-welcome screen presence, one which we were going to have to do without for the follow-up.
Thankfully, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan announced he was returning to the fold, as well as Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, who both reprise their respective roles as grizzled American agent Matt and intriguingly shady hitman Alejandro. So, all bets were off.
The good news is that Sicario 2 is less a direct sequel and more a companion piece to the original. It follows a covert American plot to kidnap a cartel leader’s daughter in order to start a turf war, with the ultimate goal of making major Mexican drug cells internally implode. Things start promisingly, with director Stefano Sollima kicking things off with a series of ominous set pieces that culminate in a harrowing supermarket tragedy.
The less good news is that it’s all downhill from there. Sollima, shouldered by his DP Dariusz Wolski, does inject some unease into the proceedings but stumbles when it comes to fully grasping what made Sicario so edge-of-your-seat riveting: not only did we witness the multifaceted landscapes on both sides of the border and the law, but we did so via the use of non-sensationalised and tension-bolstered violence. This time around, the less ambitious narrative is matched by Sollima’s looser grip on suspense, which leads to bloody bursts of violence feeling less impactful, due to the disappointing absence of borderline claustrophobic levels of tension, something the first movie had in spades. This dearth leads you to focus on some scripting pitfalls, specifically how Sheridan has failed to fully capitalise on the ripped-from-the-headlines nature of the themes that have come to define Trumpian fearmongering. The screenwriter lets himself and the film down with a screenplay rife with disappearing plot strands and some clichéd dialogue (“There are no rules this time”). More egregiously, his howlingly poor third act features a beat which initially seems brutally bold but that turns out to be an eye-rolling narrative misfire of the highest order. The film never recovers.
It would be churlish to suggest that this new instalment is completely irredeemable. Sollima delivers some decent set pieces and works well with Del Toro and the ubiquitous Brolin, who continues his winning streak following an Avengers and Deadpool-populated blockbuster season that rarely saw him off the multiplex screens. Still, it’s plain to see this sequel is not a patch on its predecessor, which remains one of this decade’s most transfixing thrillers. The bar’s still set and this doesn’t disturb it.
Sicario: Soldado (Sicario 2) | Directed by Stefano Sollima (US, 2018), with Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner. Starts July 19.
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