You’re gonna help us start a war.
Day of the Soldado serves, I think, as an instructive example of that ineffable, certain something that a truly brilliant director like Denis Villeneuve brings to a film. Because the particulars of the original Sicario and this one are not that different. Director Sollima does his dead-level best to really copy all of the superficialities of the first film, but it just doesn’t land, for all the washed out visuals and the brooding score, itself unfortunately a pastiche given the untimely passing of the original film’s brilliant composer, Johann Johannsson, and the intense performances of all concerned. But whereas Sicario is a nightmarish, suspenseful journey into the abyss, Day of the Soldado never really seems to go anywhere. I do applaud the screenplay for trying to actually tell another dramatic story; I was kind of afraid it was going to just go into a full-on cheesy action movie mode, but no, just like the first film, this film is interested in taking its time and building character (or, at least, trying to) and telling a multi-layered (if not particularly good) story. But there’s a lot that just doesn’t work. I’m incredibly glad they didn’t bring Emily Blunt’s character back; her story is pitch perfect in the first film. But we lack an outsider character to bring us into the story. Elijah Rodriguez’ weird character is not it, guys. His entire character arc is strange and just makes the film slower than it should be. I also felt like Alejandro was mischaracterized in this movie; I mean, given the final scene of the first film, I suppose we’re supposed to wonder if there might be a soul in there somewhere after all, but it’s still hard to square the guy who straight up murdered a cartel leader’s children right in front of him with the guy who risks his life in order to save the child of a cartel leader. Putting Alejandro front and center here kind of doesn’t work; it demystified him too much for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with trying to dig into the character of an archetype, but seeing him both acting stupidly and also allowing himself to be a very passive character at times really just didn’t work for me. And then there’s the problematic racial elements of the film which just feel icky in 2018. The film spends scene after scene on the urban legend of Islamic terrorists crossing into the U.S. over the Mexican border and then eases its conscience by a back-handed take back in one scene to indicate that the precipitating event of the film wasn’t true. Sorry, not really good enough, guys; not these days. All of that to the bad, the film has some good points. The performances are all quite good. Brolin is quite a bit better here than he was in the first film, mainly because he has a larger emotional range here. And Isabela Moner gives a surprising performance as the cartel leader’s hapless daughter; she doesn’t always pick the most obvious emotional note to play and I’d say she’s worth keeping an eye on. And that soundalike score is actually pretty darn good; it’s by Hildur Gudnadottir, one of Johannsson’s frequent collaborators and it’s good enough that I’m actually intrigued to see where she goes from here. We could always use more women in the film scoring arena and this is very assured (admittedly because she has Johannsson’s template). Reportedly she’s doing the new Joker score, so we’ll see how that goes. Anyway, here’s hoping the Sicario-verse comes to an ignominious end here, the sequel set-up of that terrible final scene nothwithstanding. We’ll always have the first movie and it remains a masterpiece, but this really needs to be all. Let’s talk about the future? No thanks. 2 stars.
tl;dr – unworthy sequel is mischaracterized, overly intricate, politically queasy and mostly a failure; solidly committed performances help, but not much. 2 stars.