Sicario: Day of the Soldado acts as more of a stand-alone film rather than a direct sequel to its predecessor. Director Stefano Sollima had a challenging task at hand, as this film was always going to be judged against 2015's Sicario. In many ways, the film lives up to the original, and is only hampered by a convoluted story with no fresh takes on the genre.
The film opens at the border, where a group of people are desperately trying to cross. As they are stopped, it becomes clear to the United States government that a few members of ISIS are getting into the country through Mexico. Following a tragic bombing in Kansas City, the government is now authorized to act as they please. Enter Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), an expert at interfering with Mexican cartels. We learn that in addition to the drugs, guns and other illicit activities in which the cartel does business, the real money comes through smuggling people over the border. With the help of Graver's source Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the United States government decides to start a war between rival Mexican cartels, in a last-ditch effort to distract and condense the gang presence at the border.
Day of the Soldado is able to capture the tone of the original film, using sound and engaging camera sequences. Some of the choreographed shots of military Humvees through the Mexican desert are just plain cool. The sound effects and music are spot on, really throwing the audience into the heart of the action. Pair this tone with some phenomenal acting by Brolin and Del Toro, and you'll have enough content to capture your attention. Although Brolin tends to mumble through some of his lines, the seasoned actors really drive this film, especially when on screen together.
The film falters in its messy story, never truly capturing the realism of the original. There is never someone to root for, or maybe more importantly, root against. Revenge is no longer a key theme like we saw in the original, and the two protagonists are definitely still "bad guys." What saved them in the first movie was a clear villain, a Mexican kingpin who destroyed Alejandro's family. They may have been bad guys, but they weren't the worst guys. Day of the Soldado instead focuses on Alejandro and Graver, exploring the dynamic between two men trying to do something for the greater good at any cost. The film never gets too preachy. Sollima and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan instead concentrate on making an entertaining crime drama, and for the most part, they succeed.
Fans of the first film will definitely enjoy Day of the Soldado, and the movie will definitely draw in a few new fans as well. The film may be unfairly criticized because Sicario was so good, but that should not take away from everything it does right. There are moments that will have you on the edge of your seat, and there are moments that will have you rolling your eyes. Take the ridiculous story with a grain of salt, and you'll have a good time with the latest rendition of Sicario.