"Sicario: Day of the Soldado" shares the grim, grimy, forbidding spirit of 2015's "Sicario
," but has neither its penetrating human element nor its narrative seamlessness. An unnecessary sequel that far less eloquently covers the same bases as its tremendously effective predecessor, the film runs in circles before reaching a note of plodding inevitability. The longer it plays out, the more obvious it becomes that director Stefano Sollima (replacing the first picture
's irreplaceable Denis Villeneuve) and returning screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have nothing new to say. Their central pointthat the ruthlessly violent Mexico-U.S. drug trade runs so deeply as to prove damn near unwinnablefeels more sensationalistic than pressing the second time around.
A deadly Kansas City suicide bombing presumably perpetrated by terrorists trafficked in from Mexico elicits a sharp response from U.S. Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine). With by-the-book protocol clearly no longer working, Riley enlists border agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) for a dirtier brand of retribution. The plan: to escalate the war within Mexico by abducting Isabel (Isabela Moner), the rebellious teenage daughter of drug kingpin Carlos Reyes, and falsely implicate an adversarial cartel for the crime. To help with the operation, Graver calls on embittered attorney Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whose own family was murdered by one of Reyes' cronies. This is a particularly personal job for Alejandro, but it's one that will not go quite as anyone intends.
Credit "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" for capturing the portentous mood of the outstanding "Sicario
" without having most of its main creative forces: in addition to the absence of director Villeneuve, also gone are cinematographer Roger Deakins, late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and star Emily Blunt, whose FBI field agent Kate Macer gave the first film a crucial outsider's perspective of the harrowing events taking place. Just because this second installment is a recognizable companion piece, however, doesn't mean it's a successful one. New behind-the-scenes bloodDariusz Wolski's (2017's "Alien: Covenant
") rich, twilight-enthused lensing and Hildur Guðnadóttir's droning, bass-heavy music scoreunmistakably model their work after their esteemed forerunners without bringing anything fresh to the table.
More irksome is Sheridan's initially involving but increasingly contrived screenplay, his connecting of story threadsincluding the exploits of 14-year-old U.S. citizen Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), experiencing his first day on the job as he helps traffickers transport Mexican citizens across the border, all while edging closer to a Mexican cartelawash in the kind of leaps in logic and strained coincidences that a novice writer might make. Without the moral compass that was Blunt's Kate, there is also no one with which to closely identify; the woefully underdeveloped Isabel is a poor substitute.
" is a singularly powerful depiction of the savage trickle-down effect the drug trade has on society. "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" adds human trafficking to the equation, but brings few new insights to its bleak subject matter. Josh Brolin (2018's "Avengers: Infinity War
") and Benicio Del Toro (2017's "Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi
") reprise their roles as loose cannons Matt and Alejandro; both actors are compelling screen presences, but they are used here merely as excuses to link the film with its precursor rather than pivotal participants with forward momentum and detectable arcs. Catherine Keener (2017's "Get Out
") is a welcome new face to the series as CIA boss Cynthia Foards, providing a dissenting view to Matt's subordinate methods, but she is underused before abruptly exiting the proceedings. For all of its sobering brutality, "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" doesn't actually seem to go anywhere of note during its two-hour running time. A climactic image of a blindfolded character flopping around on the ground, his arms tied behind his back, proves to be an unintentionally succinct metaphor for the project as a whole. Technically, this is a well-made film. The problem is it didn't need to be made at all.