Hollywood is always in search of it’s next Golden Goose, a franchise that will keep people coming back for more. This has spawned countless sequels, spin-offs, reboots, and remakes in a desperate effort to establish some form of reliable fanbase. While there have been some highly enjoyable films spawned from this money-making-machine, the results are often lackluster at best. Now, in an effort to maximize profits, there seems to be an even greater shift away from creative storytelling towards fashioning a marketing device. The movie doesn’t have to tell a story, or even make any sense, as long as the trailer/poster/and photo spread in Entertainment Weekly looks good.
For the second time in two weeks, a “bridge movie” is being released, a film that exists only to excite audiences for the NEXT movie. This is a far different thing than a cliffhanger, in which characters we’ve become invested with hit their lowest point, or face a potentially insurmountable challenge. In a “bridge film”, in lieu of a cliffhanger, a key character (who likely didn’t do much in the movie) will mutter a catchphrase that will likely be on the poster for the follow-up film. Examples include “Welcome to Jurassic World” or “So you want to be a sicario?”
The goal of such a movie is to get you caught up in the moment with flashy cinematography, special effects, or great acting, that it takes a while to realize you just paid someone to waste two hours of your life. If you look at it that way, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is masterfully made. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the exceptional original Sicario, returns to pen this one. According to some reports, it was always his intention to have this be a trilogy, although that’s difficult to believe considering the character arcs involved. Gone are Emily Blunt and Daniel Kaluuya, the heart and soul of the first film. Instead, we witness this corrupt and violent world, unfiltered, through hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) and Federal Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). After ISIS(?) suicide bombers are smuggled across the Mexican border, the US Government decides to start a cartel war in Mexico, with the hopes of disrupting further human trafficking. Agent Graver suggests the best way to do this is by kidnapping the 16-year-old daughter of one Cartel family and pinning the blame on another. He enlists his favorite asset south of the border, and the plan is put into motion. Their clandestine mission is intercut with a subplot involving a teenage boy(Elijah Rodriguez) who is being groomed for a life in trafficking. As savvy audience members we know their stories will eventually cross, but even when they do, it feels like a lot of backstory for a secondary character in a movie that only has secondary characters.
While the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired, many other elements in the movie are polished to a sheen. Brolin and Del Toro kill it on screen (literally & metaphorically), and not once did anyone on screen suffer from a bad performance. The lack of Villeneuve and Deakins is undeniable, but even so, the cinematography looks good, if a bit muted. It may lack the visceral punch of the Oscar Nominated original, but it never looks bad. A handful of action scenes sprinkled throughout are also quite good and are felt as much as they are seen. Of particular note is the initial terrorist bombing which is a stunning mix of technical effects work. These signature scenes make the excessive amount of driving in the film far more palatable.
But even with all these great elements, in the final moments of the film, ask yourself, “Did any of this matter?” What really changed in any of these characters from the beginning of the film to the end, outside of a slightly higher level of animosity? And if Alejandro is such an exceptional Sicario, as he truly appears to be, why is he just sitting around waiting for the US government’s permission to exact further revenge on his former legal opponents? And finally, with a title that translates literally to “Hitman: Day of the Soldier”, which character is the “soldier” and why is it his day? If you can figure it all out, please let me know.