I never saw 2015’s “Sicario” in theaters, I only knew it by its reputation as a movie that was unfairly overlooked at the Oscars that year. I watched the film in preparation for its sequel “Day of the Soldado”, and maybe it was because the version I saw was edited for television or maybe it was because I watched it from my comfy bedroom instead of the edge of my seat in a theater, but I have to say I was not impressed. It was entirely predictable that the Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro characters would turn out to not be upstanding government agents and that the Emily Blunt character would go through a by-the-numbers disillusionment storyline. It probably didn’t help that I knew Brolin and del Toro would make it out of the movie alive since they’re in “Day of the Soldado” (Blunt’s fate was up in the air as she’s not in the sequel), so some of the suspense was unfairly killed there, but I don’t think it would have affected my enjoyment much if I didn’t know. The “Sicario” series had already wasted two hours of my time before I even saw “Day of the Soldado”, and then the new film wasted two more.
The film sees shady operative Matt Graver (Brolin) tasked by the U.S. government to pit two Mexican drug cartels against each other in hopes that they’ll wipe each other out. Graver recruits his old friend Alejandro Gillick (del Toro) to help. Gillick, the titular Sicario (hitman), helped on the original mission because he got to get revenge on the man who killed his family. This movie needs a reason to bring Gillick back, so we get a shoddy explanation about how the original villain killed his family on orders from an unseen cartel boss from this movie.
The plan is to kidnap Isabel (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a cartel boss, who gets the most memorable scene in the movie where she bullies her principal who’s trying to discipline her for fighting. There’s also a follow-up plan to pose as the Mexican government in a phony rescue operation so Isabel is returned to her father thinking that the other cartel is responsible. The plan goes awry when Graver and his team are betrayed by the actual Mexican government, which makes things worse for U.S.-Mexico relations. Graver is ordered by his boss (Catherine Keener) to clean up the entire operation, including eliminating Gillick and Isabel. Gillick wants to protect the child, so he hatches a plan to smuggle her into the U.S. where she can disappear. But that plan is threatened by Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenager who’s an up-and-comer in the smuggling operation and knows Gillick isn’t the insignificant peasant he’s pretending to be.
The movie goes through all the twists and turns you’d expect from a U.S. vs. Mexican cartel thriller, minus capitalizing on opportunities to develop its characters. Wait, there is one twist I didn’t expect. A character gets shot in the head and survives. The last ten minutes of the movie is that person trying to get to safety while in an unconceivable amount of pain like a cut-rate version of “The Revenant” (the 2015 film that deservedly did well at the Oscars).
There’s a lot of violence in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”, but that doesn’t make it exciting or interesting. It just makes it hard to watch, or at least it would if the perpetrators, victims, heck, even the violence itself weren’t so bland. I can’t remember the last time I left a movie so miserable. The hacky comedies “Overboard” and “Life of the Party” back in May made me leave infuriated, but that’s not the same thing (and to be clear, this movie is not as bad as those, thanks to competence on technical levels like cinematography and editing). This movie is a two-hour joyless slog that doesn’t have the heart or personality to pull off its “uncompromising” dreariness.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language. Its running time is 122 minutes.