What can I say about a film when I’m not quite sure why it exists in the first place? One would normally, reasonably, expect a sequel to any film to add to or build upon the preceding film, but I’m stumped as to the point of making a sequel stripped of everything that made the first film worth the price of admission and two hours of one’s life. What possible appeal could there have been for “Sicario, but for dumb bros”?
Wait, don’t answer that.
A Sicario sequel without Denis Villeneuve directing, and without the cinematography of Roger Deakins, strikes me as pointless to begin with. I don’t think Sicario: Day of the Soldado stood a chance being helmed by anyone else, but I’m not going to belabour that point because it isn’t fair to knock a director and cinematographer solely because they aren’t another specific director and cinematographer. Instead, I’m going to go in on the writing because, frankly, I had trouble believing both films were written by the same person.
In this current sociopolitical shit storm, I fully expect to see an uptick in jingoistic garbage tailored for the red hat set, but I didn’t expect to find it in a follow-up to a film that did a fairly decent job of interrogating and reflecting upon the War on Drugs, and with its representation of its minority characters; not perfect, but better than most. Day of the Soldado retains the relentless violence and brutality of Sicario, but whereas the latter actually utilized it to make a point, the former has nothing of value to say at all. Where Sicario was interrogative, provocative, and fairly critical of the damaging stereotyping prevalent in similar narratives, Day of the Soldado takes more of a “Let’s just blow shit up and make it look cool” approach.
While Hollywood is, in general, pathologically effective at othering and dehumanizing marginal/minority characters, you took it to a level I haven’t seen in a while. A subplot that sees Miguel, a Hispanic-American teen, drawn into the world of cross-border human trafficking, is appalling in its eager embrace of ’bad hombre’ rhetoric. And don’t even get me started on the jihadi terror red herring that starts the film off only to be thoughtlessly tossed aside without any real resolution. I mean, fuck whatever meagre progress anyone in your field might have recently made at finding a way past relying on lazy, racist stereotyping to entertain a crowd, right? Given some of your previous work, I don’t buy that you couldn’t do better than yet another tired-ass scene involving a swarthy Arab with his finger on a detonator while a pretty blonde lady begs for her life.
Day of the Soldado also suffers from the lack of any kind of moral center or anchor, as was provided by Emily Blunt’s FBI agent character in Sicario. Miguel could have been that character in Day of the Soldado if his development and narrative arc hadn’t been completely mangled. You tried to make Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro that character, but since we saw him kill children and menace a federal agent in the first film, the sudden, poorly plotted swerve towards repentance and inner conflict doesn’t really fly.
The friend who accompanied me to this screening concluded, “There is no reason why anyone should ever have to see this movie,” but the thing is, there is no reason why this couldn’t have been a better movie. The preceding Sicario was a damn good leave-off point to work from; there was no lack of talent, on screen or off, and there was enough raw material for a more intelligent take on the current border crisis. Instead, you faked right and used it as a backdrop for the sloppy, offensive, secret-mission-gone-wrong hot mess you decided to go with. More attention and effort should have gone towards developing the story and its characters, but the amount of fucks given seem to have been in short supply here.
No “Best” for you,