Better Soldado Day on the Second Watch?
Let’s make one thing very clear: Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is a masterpiece full of atmosphere, raw intensity, and outstanding performances from its incredible cast. Somehow, the film only earned three Oscar nominations. Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt were overlooked, and the Academy nominated Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), and Adam McKay (The Big Short) over Villeneuve. The Revenant has taken all the technical awards, which is just bonkers.
Anyway, you get the reference. I love Sicario. I love it so much that I was overwhelmed by the idea of a sequel. As Del Toro’s Alejandro ventures into the unknown after assassinating a powerful drug cartel and his intense confrontation with the naive Kate Blunt, the film quickly wraps up the it has many plot threads – end of story. I’m not left with questions or pining for more from any of these characters. We learned everything we needed to know about Alejandro. Expanding his character undermines the mystery surrounding him, diminishing one of Sicario’s greatest strengths.
Hollywood being Hollywood, and Taylor Sheridan being Taylor Sheridan, plans were put forward to expand Sicario into a cinematic universe. Wisely, Villeneuve stepped down to focus on Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, ultimately handing the directorial reigns to Stefano Sollima. Del Toro and co-star Josh Brolin returned, while Blunt, the heart and soul of the original film, was awkwardly sidelined.
Despite my doubts, I rushed to theaters in 2018 for the review. I mean, the trailers looked great, promising an even darker thriller that expanded on the themes explored in Sicario. I never felt comfortable with the prospect of a sequel, but I was willing to give it a shot.
Unfortunately, Day of the Soldado plays like a straight-to-DVD hit that wastes its A-list cast on a surprisingly basic story that isn’t as strong or scary as its predecessor. The whole effort was silly at best, but Day of the Soldado falls short even under these conditions.
After my first experience, I deleted the picture from my mind and only decided to give it a second look when the film appeared on Google Play for $7.
So, was it better or worse this time? Eh, my feelings remained the same as usual. Although, I will say, Day of the Soldado is off to a great start. So much so that I started to question why I didn’t notice the sequel.
The film opens with a pair of horrific ISIS attacks. We see a man self-destruct in the desert, followed by a grocery store attack that kills a handful of American citizens, including women and children. A group of government officials tasked Brolin’s undercover, sandbox CIA Matt Graver with instigating a war between the drug cartels to stop more ISIS members from crossing the border . To do so, he asks Alejandro to kidnap the famous kingpin’s daughter, Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner). Everything goes according to plan. Alejandro effectively makes it look like a rival drug cartel that kidnapped Isabela, possibly causing a feud between the two gangs.
So far, so good. Then, corrupt Mexican police randomly attack our heroes, leaving Alejandro and Isabela alone in the desert. Like the Detroit Lions playoff game, things quickly went downhill after a strong first half.
The entire plot hinges on whether you buy Alejandro’s sudden face or not. In the original movie, this guy didn’t give two shits about anything or anyone. He tells Kate that she reminds him of his daughter before putting a gun to her head and forcing her to sign an important document. Alejandro, we are told, is later broken; The death of his wife and daughter at the hands of the cartel left him angry and vengeful, to the point that he kills the entire family to complete his quest for revenge.
In Day of the Soldado, he suddenly becomes a conscience and risks war with the CIA and Matt to protect the daughter of a drug lord. The liquid that flies against the dark senses of the Sicario is great. “You’re not a werewolf,” Alejandro tells Kate at the end of Sicario. “This is wolf country now.”
However, in a way that makes Anakin Skywalker turn to the Dark Side like Walter White, Alejandro’s character moves from a nihilistic soldier to a right-hearted defender who loses sight of the big picture.
Now, to the film’s credit, Alejandro is paying for his sudden change of heart. A shocking twist in the third act sees a young, progressive “coyote” shoot our boy in the face, apparently killing him. Alas, he will not die; he is able to break from his bonds and lives to fight another day. Soldado closes with Alejandro confronting the young boy he killed, either to kill the boy or to recruit them for battle.
At that time, I didn’t care.
As political thrillers go, Day of the Soldado isn’t terrible. Sollima arranges a couple of solid set pieces and occasionally captures the same look and feel as the original despite the absence of acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins. However, nothing in the sequel stands out, and that’s a problem. It plays out like a standard thriller right down to the predictable Alejandro/Isabela story and lacks Sicario’s interesting mystery and interesting complexity.
I mean, this is hard to top:
Naturally, Hollywood seems hell-bent on making Sicario 3 a thing when everyone involved should be fired. Sicario was lightning in a bottle, an amazing film that came from an amazing group of artists. From what I’ve read, Sheridan’s script laid the foundation, but Villeneuve and Del Toro’s tinkering added much-needed depth to the picture. It’s no secret that Villeneuve is a rock star. The man has yet to make a bad film and is still capable of injecting every project with layers of complexity.
That’s a tough act to follow. Everyone involved in Sicario should have been successful and moved the hell on. Not everything needs a sequel or spinoff/expanded universe; Often, additional chapters only spoil the power of the original design.
Will I see Sicario 3 when it inevitably hits theaters? Yes. But even with Sheridan and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie in charge of the project, it is doubtful that the third film will match the undoubted power of Sicario.
Then again, maybe Alejandro’s words will ring true when the dust finally settles around the franchise: “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you’ll be skeptical of everything we do. But eventually, you’ll understand.”