Sicario 2: Soldado:  Denis Villeneuve’s  blistering, daring thriller gets a follow-up three years on, but this sequel lacks some of the magic of the dynamic original.

Sicario 2: Soldado review by Freda Cooper.

It’s par for the course.  A film is a success, so there has to be a sequel, right?  Risk aversion, financial imperative, low creativity ….. whatever the reason, and sometimes it’s all three, follow ups have become a mainstay of the current cinema offering.  The critical and box office success of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) meant it was only a matter of time before part two arrived, even if fans were less than convinced by the idea.  The combined talents of Villeneuve, Roger Deakins and Taylor Sheridan had produced a blistering, daring thriller, one of the best in years.  How can you follow that?

The short answer is that you can’t.  Not that it stops the new team of director Stefano Sollima (Gomorrah, Suburra), DP Dariusz Wolski (a Ridley Scott regular) and the returning Taylor Sheridan giving it a shot with Sicario 2: Soldado.  The setting is the familiar Mexican border, with immigrants making that dangerous night time crossing, but terrorists are now part of the people trafficking operation and the resulting suicide bombings prompt the FBI to call upon the services of Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).  Teaming up with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), he plans to set off a gang war in Mexico and the first move is to kidnap the daughter of one of the cartel bosses.

Sicario 2: Soldado review
Sicario 2: Soldado review

Like its illustrious predecessor, Sicario 2: Soldado has plenty of contemporary resonances, perhaps more than Sheridan could ever have imagined when he wrote the script. Yet, putting recent events to one side, it lacks the bold, outspoken style that has become his trademark: here, he’s almost coy, fighting shy of going for the jugular and, even though the terrorist aspect of the story takes him into new territory, it does little to expand the story.  Away from the politics, he copies one of the most memorable aspects of the original by persuading us that the film is all about one character, then revealing it’s about another.  Except that we’ve been here before.

That sense of deja vu pervades other areas of the film.  The three short years that have seen the world go something close to crazy mean the earlier stages have lost some of their shock value.  We’re not immune to them but dread, not horror, is the reaction.  Cinematically, the same is true about the raid on a compound under the cover of night and the treatment of a terrorist suspect.  All hard hitting stuff, and done competently, but in much the same way as other films dealing with similar subjects.

Sicario 2: Soldado review
Sicario 2: Soldado review

This time round, what the film misses sorely is the visually dramatic magic that came with the Villeneuve/Deakins combo.  The heart-pounding set pieces are fewer – one at the start and another towards the end, essentially bookending the movie – but that’s about your lot.  That said, Wolski makes good use of expansive aerial shots and has a knack for showing the rapidly mounting body count from the confines of inside a military vehicle.  It doesn’t quite make up shortfall, but it does mean that the plot moves along at the relentless speed it needs.

Despite the return of its stars and scriptwriter, Sicario 2: Soldado never quite reaches the heights of the original.  It’s a strong action thriller, but politically coy and at times routine.  Yet there’s already talk of a third outing.  For it to stand a chance, it needs Villeneuve.  What are the odds?

Sicario 2: Soldado review by Freda Cooper.

Sicario 2: Soldado is released in the UK on Friday, 29 June 2018.