The relentless, violent, failing but necessary war on drugs proved an interesting basis for 2015’s sleeper hit, Sicario, which followed a darker, grittier take than usual on the drug war.
Diving headfirst into some very shady goings on along the US-Mexico border, at times it was hard to see the difference between the drug cartels and the government forces stacked against them.
That moral ambiguity of merciless, cruel people on two sides of the same issue stacked against each other provided a dark lens through which to peer at some uncomfortable issues, with the film’s core character (brilliantly played by the ever reliable Emily Blunt) providing a solid hook for a film injected with many shades of grey.
Still, despite being a sleeper hit and a critical darling, Sicario seemed like a perfectly self-contained one-off, and not something that there was a need for, or an obvious path into, a sequel.
However, money and acclaim talks, and thus we have Sicario 2 (Cert 15A, 122 mins).
To use its actual title, Sicario: Day of the Soldado once again picks up on the same overall theme as the first film, as the ‘good’ guys choose to fight fire with fire, with a number of characters in motion who play totally by their own violent moral codes, all in the aim of serving the greater good.
However, I’m not sure that the violence and cruelty at the heart of much of the film (such as the opening act’s grim suicide bombing at a grocery store, directing the rest of the story), is truly in service to the plot, or is there just to underscore that ‘this is a bad place, with bad people’. This, we already know.
Following that bombing, and tasked with sowing chaos along the border in a bid to weaken drug cartels, maverick federal agent Matt (Josh Brolin) turns to shady sicario (hitman) Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), with the aim of kidnapping the daughter of a top cartel kingpin to disrupt operations. What could possibly go wrong?
At heart, that’s a blithe summary of the film’s core plot (then again, most films have a simple summary; Titanic is basically: ‘Ship hits iceberg, sinks’, after all), but there’s nothing blithe or casual about Sicario 2, which is an intense, focused and deliberate dive into darkness.
It’ll come as no surprise to hear that the kidnapping plot soon goes awry, with the plan falling apart as the body count ups, and violence begets violence – and then some.
Ambushes, personal grudges, brooding violence – in service to the right plot, these triggers could provide some high notes to make a story sing and zing off the screen, but alas, Sicario 2 isn’t such a film (which is perhaps why Blunt isn’t back on board for this one).
Brolin and Del Toro are great – but then, aren’t they always – and the film picks up on many of the same visual beats as the first film, from beautifully shot dawn desert shots to helicopter shots that helped give the film (and now, the franchise) a strong identity.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is very much a film that was made because they could, rather than because they should have made it – it’s a grim but gratuitous follow-up, and the definition of an unnecessary sequel.
Notwithstanding the incomprehensible, brutal violence of the real, ongoing drug war slaughter, Sicario 2 also seems a little easier to warm to than the current (and continuing) cruelty we’re all witnessing in the news along the southern US border, further weakening its impact on the big screen.