Sicario was a film that actively worked against the tropes of action-thrillers of its ilk. While retaining an incredible amount of suspense, it managed to comment on gender politics, border politics and the morality of our government's action. This was all seen through the eyes of Emily Blunt's character who served as an audience surrogate to the horrors that unfolded. This sequel seems to stand for everything the original was working against.
Blunt is not back but Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are. Brolin's Matt Graver was a quirky force in the original film, wearing flip-flops to national security meetings and constantly pushing against Blunt's wide-eyed innocence. Those quirks are missing this time around leaving a shell of a character. In many ways, this change represents so much of what is wrong with this sequel. It lacks the uniqueness and attentive character development and replaces it with a lot more action. Del Toro's Alejandro remains more intact here but is robbed of the weight of his revenge-driven involvement. In the first film he is like a chained wildcat who Graver unleashes when needed. Here he is a partner in what plays out as a buddy cop type film.
The plot surrounds a series of terrorist attacks by a drug cartel who is using suicide bombers to send a message. The message they are sending is never very clear. Graver is given "no rules" to carry out a complicated mission to kidnap the daughter (Isabela Moner) of one of the kingpins in order to blame it on a rival gang to start a war. Graver quickly enlists Alejandro to help carry out the mission. Things get messy and soon they are on the run and Graver is faced with a tough decision to make.
Tyler Sheridan returns as the screenwriter but here seems lost as to what the aim is of
Day of the Soldado. Sicario's screenplay presented rich depictions of both sides of the border. The moral quandaries are all missing and what is left is a bland action film that happens to take place around the border. The story is never very compelling and Stefano Sollima's direction is often tedious and boring. Denis Villeneuve had directed Sicario with a precision that was breathtaking. Day of the Soldado is rarely interesting aside from one convoy chase scene that picks up the pace and delivers suspense.
Sequels don't need to be as heady or complex as their predecessors to be good, think Alien vs Aliens. If they are going to trade the deeper themes for more action, then they need to be directed with precision. Day of Soldado fails to be the action sequel it set out to be.