Some things need to be left alone. In cinema, that idea is routinely ignored as every year a sequel, prequel or spinoff is released. With Sicario, the 2015 feature from acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, its brooding intensity left unforgettable impressions upon audiences and critics alike. It was a stand-alone story which was near-perfect in that it didn’t need supplemental or continuing material. In other words, we don’t need a sequel regardless of its success.

Nearly three years later, though, a follow-up to Sicario is here, whether we want it or not. Sicario: Day of the Soldado isn’t a complete sequel, either, since it arrives without Emily Blunt, who played the original’s main protagonist Kate Macer, and Villeneuve, who passed on directing. These are warning signs, but there were some things to look forward to – screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is back, as are Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, whose characters provided much of Sicario’s intensity and mystery.

Soldado, for what it’s worth, is a competent continuation of the Sicario story. It contains an acceptable amount of tension and its tone is a near-match. But under Stefano Sollima’s direction, Soldado is the result of a director who tried too much to imitate Villeneuve’s style. In that sense this sequel shares a common thread with Ocean’s 8 and its director Gary Ross’ attempts to copy Steven Soderbergh. On its own merits, Soldado is a watchable morality tale, but it won’t hold up under the weight of its predecessor.

A lot of Soldado’s problems stem from a protagonist change. Brolin and del Toro, as Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick, are now the “good” good guys, and knowing that means personality makeovers are necessary. In Sicario, Matt and Alejandro were mysterious and shady and they represented a moral gray area that challenged audiences. They were more or less unlikeable and provided near-equal strain on Kate Macer as the Mexican cartels. With Kate gone from this story, Matt and Alejandro had the curtains lifted in regards to their moral characters, and that shift from questionable good guys to hesitant ones provides significantly less impact. Matt and Alejandro represented a necessary but gruesome aspect of crime fighting, and to see them soften in Soldado is disappointing, not to mention it nearly undermines the impressions they made in the original. Besides, the more mysterious they are the more interesting they tend to be

That means Soldado’s problems lie with the script. Sheridan has written excellent and gripping stories in recent years and as a result he’s a go-to writer for brooding morality tales that run parallel to today’s America. By inserting doubt within Matt and Alejandro he effectively deflated some character expectations, although from a certain point of view it’s comforting to know that even shady individuals have moral thresholds.

Sheridan changed another parameter – instead of waging a war on drugs the war is against illegal immigration. This new narrative raises the stakes in different areas and now involves innocent people. Come to think to think of it, maybe that’s why Matt and Alejandro’s integrities were tested – it wasn’t as simple as preventing cocaine from crossing the border. Drugs turned into people and the potential to keep people from a better way of life must’ve weighed heavier on them than harmful drugs.

Don’t be fooled - Soldado is still relentless. It is rough and tough and will challenge audiences. Its focus on immigration will hit too close to home for many but a majority will come away impressed overall. You won’t waste your time screening this, but keep in mind Soldado is what Sicario would look like if Villeneuve didn’t direct it. Audiences will be good to go as long as they don’t expect it to match the same level of greatness as the original.

3 stars out of 5


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