In the sequel to Dennis Villeneuve's brilliant treatment of an America stretched thin in its efforts to repel and dismantle the Mexican drug cartel collective, Emily Blunt's disillusioned Kate Macer has presumably returned home for good, while the wolves of questionable conscience have come out to deal and murder to their hearts' content.
"Dirty is exactly why you're here."
With explicit blessing from the defense secretary, covert operations specialist Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) gets into a whack'em all mood. Romancing a mercenary contractor over dinner, he purchases the private military muscle needed for a protracted war against anyone and everyone-strike teams, black hawks and attack drones. And so begins an amoral death opera of first executing one kingpin on the sidewalk in broad daylight, then kidnapping the progeny of another- levying calculated misery in hopes of lighting the fuse for an internecine conflict between rival cartels. Graver's emotionally damaged bloodhound Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) is simultaneously let off the leash to dispense his brand of carnage, and soon the body count mounts with no end in sight.
As Taylor Sheridan's script intended, things unravel terribly and the situation spirals into an absolute FUBAR. Push comes to shove, the US black bag apparatus scrambles to sever ties and eliminate all traces of involvement. Every potential liability becomes fair game for termination, even little Isabel Reyes (Isabelle Moner) isn't spared. Her fate subsequently becomes entwined with the decisions made by both male leads.
On most counts Soldado competently extrapolates the premise of the original film - a bleak, ultra violent state of affairs where good and evil exist on opposite sides of a thin, gradually vanishing thread and blood shed is ultimately the currency of negotiations. Brolin and Del Toro turn in decidedly controlled performances as agent provocateur and slightly unhinged hitman respectively, yet without the visionary Villeneuve at the helm something felt lost in translation from paper to lens. Director Stefano Sollima (best known for Italian TV crime drama Gomorrah) has created a companion piece that is still good entertainment in the vein of a straightforward guns blazing gangster flick, sans the layered storytelling which made the original Sicario a blistering masterpiece.
Part of the blame though must be apportioned to Sheridan who also wrote the incendiary first part but mucked up a wee bit this time round. Soldado's leaky plot features irrelevant fillers; one graphic terrorist bombing of a Kansas City supermarket at the very beginning immediately comes to mind. Of course not forgetting having to stomach an unbelievable comeback from the dead just before the end credits roll.
Pop quiz: can you drive along casually after being shot in the face? In the Sicario cinematic universe, its a resounding yes.
Fingers crossed for a third installment if Soldado does substantial business at the box office.