So there I was, sitting in a McDonald’s in England. It was 2015, and I was killing time since I had the weekend off. I went to my local comic book store and was able to pick up some issues of Justice League since I was behind a few months. While I was reading, I decided I might as well go to the village’s local movie theatre. It was a four screen theatre, but it was small and cozy, so I decided to do an impromptu double feature. I eventually settled on seeing The Martian, which was damned good, and Sicario. Sicario made me feel empty inside for a solid day.
I kid you not when I say that Sicario was one of the bleakest and most hopeless movies I have ever seen, and I mean that in all of the best ways. It relentlessly beats you down with how dark and insidious its world is and leaves you battered and bruised psychologically leaving the theatre. So fast forward to 2018, where someone decided in their infinite wisdom that the world wasn’t already a depressing and miserable place, so we needed another Sicario movie! Enter Sicario: Day of the Soldado, a pretty solid movie that has all of the misery, but none of it hits as hard as the original.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Director: Stefano Sollima
Release Date: June 29th, 2018
Day of the Soldado picks up sometime after the original movie, where the United States government has begun to classify the Mexican drug cartels as a terrorist organization. The only problem is that they need a trigger in order to launch a full-scale war against the cartels so they’re not seen as the aggressors and also because they have suspicions that the cartel has been smuggling terrorists into America. Enter Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick, who have been hired to cause the cartels to declare war on each other so the US can intervene and be the heroes. Alejandro decides to kidnap a kingpin’s daughter, and then everything just goes to hell in every possible way.
To give credit where credit is due, Benicio del Toro is phenomenal as Alejandro. He was great in the original, and he’s still great here. He just exudes being badass without having any of the standard Hollywood machoism. All you need to do is look at him and you know he can kill you without even trying. Josh Brolin also returns and does a good job at Graver, but this is del Toro’s movie without a doubt.
I went into Day of the Soldado expecting a cheap cash grab of the original. I thought that Sicario was going to become some new action series and completely miss the point of the hopelessness of the original, but thankfully that isn’t the case. Director Stefano Sollima tries his best to keep the misery and despair of Sicario intact, and there are plenty of scenes that effectively do so. There’s a scene very early on of a group of suicide bombers attacking a grocery store, and a brutal execution scene that left me squirming in my seat afterwards.
And yet, it rings hollow most of the time. It tries to recapture that magic from the original, but it misses a key ingredient; there’s no POV character. In the original, the audience had a surrogate who was entering the world of Mexican drug cartels for the first time. We saw from her perspective how dehumanizing and horrifying this world could be, and seeing her will be slowly broken was what really stuck with me, even after all of these years. Day of the Soldado instead focuses on del Toro and Brolin, which is fine, but we’re meant to root for two assholes who do horrible things because they hate the world. Sure, we can empathize with del Toro, but it’s not as powerful as watching a decent person be beaten down by the world.
We also have a weird subplot about a kid who gets involved in a human trafficking organization that doesn’t matter until the last 30 minutes of the movie. Occasionally he’ll just pop up and take us away from the drug war to see him fart about for a few minutes before we get back to the action. Even when he does become important to the plot, he only does one thing at the very end that justifies his entire existence, and it was clearly the weakest part of the movie.
But when Day of Soldado is strong, it is incredibly strong. Even when nothing happens for long periods of time, you feel like del Toro is commanding you to keep watching just based on his performance. My favorite part of the movie was actually a quieter scene between del Toro and a deaf man and all they did was communicate to each other in sign language as del Toro tried to convince him to help him out. There was no action or dialogue, but it left more of an impact with me than the rest of the movie.
Let me be clear on this. Sicario did not need a sequel. It was a fantastic movie that said what it wanted to say, then moved on leaving us all wanting to take a never-ending shower. Day of the Soldado was never going to be as good as its predecessor, but that’s okay. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s competent. It gets the job done. I kind of hope that Day of the Soldado is able to get the recognition that it deserves, but it’s probably going to be swallowed up by bigger releases in the coming weeks. Which is a shame, because I would still recommend this movie to fans of the original. It’s a watered down version of Sicario, but it’s still Sicario.
Also, I thought this should go without saying, but please don’t bring your five-year-old child to a movie featuring suicide bombers, Thanos killing police officers, and torture. I mean, if you do, more power to you, but if you were anything like the little girl in my theatre, you might just be a wee bit scared. Or traumatized. Or ask why the man’s brains weren’t in his head. Hilarious? Yes, but still, don’t bring your kids to this.