Early reviews are coming in for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” the sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 crime thriller about a secret border drug war between the United States government and Mexican cartel. According to critics, Stefano Sollima’s “Day of the Soldado” ramps up the violence and tension as well as provides memorable performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin and proves itself to be a brutal-but-worthy entry in a new series of gritty modern western films, notching a 71% score on Rotten Tomatoes so far.
The first “Sicario” holds a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and received three Academy Award nominations.
Variety’s Peter Debruge described “Day of the Soldado” as topical, given the recent controversies regarding the Trump administration’s border policies, but it’s not as though the film that will settle the debate surrounding the issue, saying, “Tense, tough, and shockingly ruthless at times, ‘Soldado’ doesn’t show much interest in the individuals who dream of a better life in the United States, any more than ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ cared about the victims of the My Lai Massacre. Rather, ‘Soldado’ is a grim, serious-minded look at what America can do to disrupt this system — one that’s much too smart to think that a border wall will solve anything, but downright risible in its own might-makes-right politics, which reduce to a single, terse catchphrase: ‘No rules this time.'”
Debruge further complimented on screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s “mastery” of the modern western, and praised Brolin’s return, saying, “he reveals the conscience beneath this unflinching samurai’s thick leather hide — which is the last thing you’d expect to find when ‘Soldado’ reintroduces him interrogating a Somali pirate, something he does with a cruelty that would make most people long for good old-fashioned torture tactics.”
Here are some takeaways from critics:
“Even without DP Roger Deakins and the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson aboard to sculpt the movie’s nerve-racking sense of dread, ‘Day of the Soldado’ feels like a high-class extension of their contributions to the ominous atmosphere that was ‘Sicario’s’ signature — one that plays off audience paranoia, exploiting the idea that we’re in way over our heads, watching professionals who’ve done and seen far worse than we could ever imagine as they double-cross one another. There’s a sequence in which three American Humvees power along a dirt road at top speed, where the characters can hardly see anything but dust billowing outside the windows, in which the near certainty that something horrible will happen made me feel like I was suffering a slow-motion heart attack. And just when I thought I couldn’t take the suspense any longer, the scene went fully FUBAR.”
“The original ‘Sicario’ was hard-edged and dark, concerned with the way violence can erode the soul, and whether or not a soul is even needed in the complex world of ever-increasing criminal enterprise at the Mexican border. ‘Day of the Soldado,’ with its well-choreographed chases, excellent photography (by Dariusz Wolski), fast pace, intense music (by Hildur Guðnadóttir), and badass gunfights, reads more like an action film than a drama. The darkness is still there, and the film climaxes with moments of intense confrontation rather than chases and large explosions, but said darkness is folded into something more forthrightly thrilling. It’s a tonal shift that works well, at least from a technical standpoint.”
“Alas, all the darkness in the world doesn’t make ‘Day of Soldado’ feel real, and errant mentions of a weak-stomached POTUS violently return us to the atrocities happening beyond the frame. Gellick and Graver might retrieve some missing part of themselves, but who gives a damn about their humanity when so many others on the fringes of this story have theirs forcibly stripped away? It’s not just in the news, it’s also in the movie, pulling our attention to where it naturally wants to go. The ultra-seriousness of the first ‘Sicario’ relied on people not knowing much about what was really going on at the border. Now we all know too much.”
“This sequel banishes [Emily] Blunt, and her blunt outrage. It’s a bit better, a lot dumber. The new tone’s set early. Alejandro assassinates a cartel functionary in broad daylight. He’s wearing a mask — only so he can take it off, though, a flourish like David Caruso and his sunglasses. He executes the man, firing his gun exactly (I counted) 417 times. So Sicario 2 is junk, but it’s stylish junk. Director Stefano Sollima has worked in Italian crime thrillers, and he brings a run-and-gun humanity to this, suggesting complexities of border society (where the first film defaulted to moody hellscapery).”
“Director Stefano Sollima is able to evoke the original ‘Sicario’ despite having different pieces in play. He’s got talented cinematographer Dairiusz Wolski (‘Alien: Covenant’) in for Oscar-winner Roger Deakins, and he has a brooding score from Hildur Guðnadóttir in for the late Johann Johannsson. The sequel feels in line with the original, and yet that only serves to highlight where the new movie falls short, particularly with regards to the story. The new film desperately needs a character like Emily Blunt’s Kate Mercer, someone with a firm point of view to help navigate the chaos created by Matt and Alejandro. Without that character, you just have two guys wreaking havoc and believing the ends justify the means. Without a counterbalance, the movie devolves into bloodshed upon bloodshed without any organic character growth or conflict. The decisions Matt, Alejandro, and other characters decide to make feel random and like they were done to move the plot forward rather than something in line with their previous actions.”
“Denis Villeneuve, who directed the acclaimed Oscar-nominated original, hands the reigns to filmmaker Stefano Sollima whose audition – superior Italian mob drama Suburra – was passed with flying colours in 2015. It’s to Sollima’s credit that the material is dissected competently despite the plot’s complexity (it’s about 794 laughs short of being a Coen Brothers film). He keeps the audience continually abreast of the who, what and why while retaining the lingering dread the original maintained throughout with solid assistance from cinematographer Roger Deakins and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson (his portentous three-note motif remains courtesy of Hildur Guðnadóttir).”
“Some narrative threads don’t work, and some eventually lead to dead ends. In fact, the first two acts set up a much bigger story than we ultimately get, with the movie seemingly changing gears at the last second to tell a smaller and more personal tale. However, the bulk of ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’s’ ‘A’ plot is a satisfying continuation of the two characters introduced in the previous film, and leaves them in a spot where we want to know what will happen. It’s not that the film necessarily ends on a vague cliffhanger, but the door that it opens in its final minutes stands out as an enticing one that absolutely demands that ‘Sicario 3’ happen.”
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” hits theaters on June 29.