In the highly anticipated sequel to 2015’s wildly successful and eye-opening suspense story “Sicario” is a bland, much less exciting look inside the deadly drug cartels located just across the southern U.S. border. Taking full advantage of today’s toxic political chatter on threats posed by illegal immigration and the need for stronger American border security, “Day of the Soldado” sustains the original film’s benchmark for violence.
While “Soldado” never shies away from exposing the violence of human trafficking into the United States, the storytelling is never as crisp as its predecessor—which earned my No. 4 overall ranking of all films that year.
This continuation piece returns the two main chess players found in the life or death game of cat-and-mouse along the Texas-Mexican line: Hollywood’s busiest actor, Josh Brolin, and Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro. Both return as CIA truth-talkers and implementers of U.S. national security.
The major problem with “Soldado” is the film’s pulling of punches and a blurry, underwhelming finish. Attempting to connect the dots between Middle Eastern countries sponsoring terrorism and the infiltration of bad guys into the U.S., the movie never paints a complete, steady picture. Instead, “Soldado” too quickly jumps to the Mexican cartels—an easier enemy that needs little explanation to the public on that group’s ruthlessness.
Whereas the original “Sicario” packed non-stop adrenaline rushes and sparked a fight or flight response from viewers with edge-of-your-seat action scenes, “Soldado” only gains its suspense footing in the film’s final thirty minutes. Even then, though, it’s tempered and lacks clarity as to how events unfolded at the cartel’s personal and business end.
Nevertheless, “Soldado” once again feeds off Del Toro and his character’s edgy, yet at time’s kind, persona. Relative big-screen newcomer Isabela Moner shines as the daughter of a cartel kingpin kidnapped as a bargaining chip, earning her a guaranteed spot in the next installment of the “Sicario” franchise. Surprisingly, the film’s weakest link was the original film’s brightest star—Brolin’s CIA division chief. Brolin, with his teeth removed (figuratively) in “Soldado,” gives a toned-down performance that is barely recognizable from his dynamic team leader role three years ago.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” isn’t nearly as satisfying as the 2015 original. Despite small doses of gripping and intense standoffs, the film lacks a cohesive story, culminating in a poor ending. Del Toro and Moner carry this film from start to finish. While the film still offers a depiction of deadly human trafficking and the dangers of illegal border crossings, “Soldado” really only accomplishes one task—setting up the another sequel for serious “Sicario” fans.