Secretary of Defenss James Riley (Matthew Modine) hires Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to use antiterrorist tactics against drug cartels. Of course, Graver knows a guy. It’s a good 20 minutes before Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) makes his entrance and the film earns that dramatic buildup. It opens with a harrowing, disturbing suicide bombing. Graver’s tactics are somewhat reassuring that someone can root out terrorists, but nothing is free.
Day of the Soldado feels like a Sicario movie, but distinct from its predecessor. It’s not just that Alejandro and Graver are back, and often find themselves in control rooms watching footage on banks of monitors. It deals with the complexities of government intervention in lawless organizations. Yet with a new eye that fits Sicario but is not Denis Villeneuve.
The centerpiece action scene is an armored caravan assault. The protagonists are basically sitting in tanks waiting for moments to strike back, and it’s mostly from the point of view of the little girl Isabel (Isabela Moner), whose kidnapping the Americans orchestrated.
The politics overwhelm the mission as it becomes apparent that success doesn’t matter. Political shifts render the mission moot, but Alejandro and Graver have to eat it. They are fighting against their own authorities as much as the drug cartels and terrorists, and that is the true nature of real world politics.
The deeper it gets, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is full of suspenseful situations, through which Alejandro keeps his cool. He’s rational in the most irrational situations.
Sicario will be a fine franchise for del Toro to continue to play the badass Alejandro. If it has something to say, and gives new directors a playground to make grounded, realistic action movies, that’s a bonus too. Day of the Soldado establishes Sicario as a reliable brand that’s not a one hit wonder.