One of the most compelling things about Dennis Villeneuve’s Sicario is how effective it is at conveying the outsider status of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer in the hypermasculine atmosphere of Matt Graver’s (Josh Brolin) anti-drug taskforce. The movie has gender at the forefront of its mind, with incredibly loaded imagery designed to evoke sexual domination and rape at multiple key points in the film. So, I was surprised to hear that we were leaving Emily Blunt’s character where she was the end of the last film; bullied, broken and intimidated by Benicio Del Toro’s enigmatic Alejandro and focusing on Alejandro himself as well as antagonist Matt Graver. It seems that my fears were well founded, as Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a macho affair that does very little to compliment the themes of the first movie. By the end of the film’s two hour runtime (it feels more like 3 hours, if I’m being honest) I was left wondering why this film exists at all. It’s a boring, superficial follow up to a fine movie that deserved a more worthy successor.
It would likely be as tedious for me to recap the finer points of the plot as it would be for you to read them. It is a standard modern political thriller, where every conversation is happening in either an office or a military base and every conversation is about intangible goals, details and locations in a way that it is almost impossible to pay attention to. Basically, Graver has been called in to exploit the fact that the unnamed US President is going to declare the Mexican drug cartels terrorists. For some reason, provoking a war between the various cartels will allow the CIA to capitalize on the ensuing anarchy. To do this, Graver calls in his main man Alejandro to stage the kidnapping of Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), daughter of an important Cartel leader.
What does successfully carry over from the first movie is the damning depiction of various arms of the United States government. The CIA of the Sicario movies – which is the most realistic version in cinema that I can think of – is comprised of cold pragmatists who even manage to perform ostensibly noble causes like combating the drug cartels and do them in the most disinterested and egoisitc way possible. There isn’t even a lone hero who swims against the tide, there is no Jack Bauer who fails to tow the line. This is a film about the same terrible people that we met in the first movie, with no fresh eyed outsider to slow them down.
This leads me to the film’s first big problem, which is that it has no real emotional center. The investment that came from taking Macer’s POV in the first movie isn’t replaced with anything worthwhile. There is an attempt made at around the one hour mark to elicit emotion when Alejandro and Reyes start going through their obligatory Logan arc and we see the more vulnerable Alejandro that we assumed had died with his cartel-victimized family. That being said, this simply doesn’t work like the filmmakers clearly wanted it to. Maybe it doesn’t quite click because Alejandro’s actions in the last film were so despicable that this movie couldn’t quite erase them or maybe it was because the film bludgeoned me with so much tediousness beforehand that I was numb to it but I found myself rolling my eyes at yet another story of a tough killer who has his emotional armor cracked by an aggressive yet vulnerable girl.
The film is as handsomely shot as its predecessor, though the sinister and thudding score of the previous movie is used with such abandon here that it starts to take on an almost comedic tone. The repetitious music makes the movie feel like an overlong sketch in the vein of Too Many Cooks, where the joke starts to be “just how much of the movie can we make punishingly dull and aggressively emotionless”. At one point two characters were flying in a helicopter together with the same foreboding music playing over the scene and I thought “This? This needs to be depressing and bleak as well”? One thing that the use of the same music in multiple scenes can do is invite comparisons between those scenes. We think of them together and compare the emotions and actions of one scene to the other. This is impossible, as the repetitious and simple score used this much creates on omnipresent mood that pervades over every inch of the movie. Imagine if 90% of The Avengers had the theme from the iconic panoramic shot of the team playing over it. That shot would probably be robbed of its iconic status because of it.
The technical filmmaking in general falls short of the original film. New director Stefano Sollima has little respect for narrative economy and there is an entire B-plot that concerns a wannabe Sicario named Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriquez) that fails to meaningfully pay off. Similarly, the action is more prevalent than ever in this movie but it is all dull and boring. Tracking shot over the shoulder of a character, cut to that character firing an assault rifle and then cut to his targets falling over. Rinse and repeat, with none of the scenes having internal narratives or any sense of exciting escalation. The action doesn’t have to be exciting, mind you. It does, however, have to be memorable and useful to the overall film and unfortunately it’s just not. By the time we reach a completely useless and extended scene near the end – the details of which would be too spoilery for a general review – I was wondering if the filmmakers had any sense at all that their movie would actually be watched by an audience.
There is a certain type of person who will like Sicaro: Day of the Soldado. It has a macho uber-seriousness about it and it will likely kill with the “they don’t make movies for adults anymore” crowd but I just found it dull. I love the first movie and I wish they had furthered the narrative of that film more organically but Day of the Soldado doesn’t even work on its own terms. Let’s hope they figure out how to make the teased third movie work, because I’m not sure I can sit through another film as uninvolving and seemingly never-ending as this one.