Sicario 2: Soldado is disappointingly only very good
Yes, we know how that sounds, but stick with us...
Have you ever gone to a restaurant, one which was overseen by one of the greatest chefs working today, and just been blown away by the meal? How it looked, how it tasted, every aspect of it was bordering on perfection.
Then maybe you've gone back to that restaurant, and maybe that chef is having a day off or moved on to another restaurant, and you order the same thing as last time... and it is still very good, there's nothing necessarily wrong with it... if only you hadn't visited that first time, you wouldn't be spoiled by comparison.
Which brings us to Sicario 2: Soldado, a movie that is disappointingly only very good.
Behind the camera, gone is director Denis Villeneuve, as he decided to make Blade Runner 2049 instead. Incredible cinematographer Roger Deakins also joined him on that project, while composer Johann Johannson passed away earlier this year. If you've forgotten how great his score work was for the first movie, let us remind you:
Clip via Soundtracked Universe
In their places are director Stefano Sollima (Gomorrah, Suburra), cinematographer Darius Wolski (The Martian, Prometheus) and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who has previously assisted in the soundtracks for Arrival and The Revenant.
All are brilliantly talented, but none can claim to match the talent of what came before.
Emily Blunt is also AWOL from Soldado, as the plot focuses on the back-and-forth between shady government operative Josh Brolin and even shadier assassin for hire Benicio Del Toro, as they are told to kick off a war between the Mexican drug cartels in retaliation to a number of terrorist attacks on American soil.
This mission involves kidnapping the daughter (an exceptional Isabela Moner) of one of the major cartel leaders, the same leader who ordered Del Toro's family be killed years ago, which then spurned on his one-man-revenge mission against all evil-doers.
There are a lot of touchstones from the original Sicario that can be found in the sequel: a parallel plot involving someone who lives on the border that will eventually collide with the main plot, an incredible car-based action sequence (last time set at the border crossing, this time set on an incredible dusty and deserted road), and background politics so shady and convoluted that they can get too murky to be fully understand.
However, while both of these movies are essentially about the war on drugs at this border, and the many, MANY secondary criminal activities that stem from that primary source of illegal business, the actual genre they landed in turns out to be the biggest difference.
Despite being disguised as a political action thriller, Sicario was a horror movie. The pounding, squirmy score and scorched Earth visuals depicted a woman's slow descent in hell, one that she couldn't escape because she volunteered to go, and couldn't correct because people way above her pay grade don't want any actual changes to take place.
Soldado, as it turns out, is a Western. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote the first movie, has also written Hell Or High Water and Wind River, both of which were deep-down Westerns, regardless of their settings.
Villeneuve took his script for the first movie, and twisted and turned it into something properly horrific. Sollima took a script for a Western, and made a a Western. A very good Western, but a Western all the same.
The intrinsic change in that DNA from the first movie is missing, which is probably why Soldado can't quite compare to the original. Sicario was a movie about good guys and bad guys and the grey areas in between, except that in between bit was also filled with innocent people left hanging on the streets in Mexico, and entire houses filled with corpses in the walls. It presented a cop movie, but ramped up the obvious, every day horror of their jobs to eleven.
Soldado does attempt to do that every now and again - the opening bomb attacks come to mind - before settling into a straight ahead Western, complete with the ruthless killer being given a tag-along reason to feel feelings again, a la True Grit, or Logan (which was a Western, disguised as a superhero movie).
So here we are, with the paradoxical problem of a film being disappointingly very good. Should you watch it? Absolutely. Is it as good as the original? Absolutely not. Alter your expectations accordingly.
Sicario 2: Soldado is available to watch on Netflix right now.
Clip via Sony Pictures Entertainment