Ask me for a sequel that’s as good as the original that inspired it and I’ll give you The Godfather: Part II. That’s about the only one I can think of.
Creating a good sequel is a damned hard thing to accomplish. You’ve got to deliver something fresh and engaging while retaining the elements of the original that captured an audience to begin with. Hollywood loves ’em, because they carry a built-in audience (at least theoretically), but from a creative standpoint, it’s a minefield full of opportunities to blow it.
Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado ain’t no Godfather.
What it is, is a solid military thriller, with a couple of charismatic leads, a lot of extremely violent action and yet another touch on writer Taylor Sheridan’s ongoing, multiple-film theme of fathers unable to protect their daughters.
It’s a good movie and, for the Frontier Partisan, worth the time.
Yep, it’s true that the sequel lacks the weight of the original. It sorely misses the mediation of FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt). Given what happened in Sicario, it would have been beyond absurd to bring her back — a betrayal of the themes of the movie. Simply creating another character like her would have thrown the story into sequel retread territory. So, there’s just no “normal” moral compass to mediate our journey into this dark world.
The film’s primary setting in the deserts of Coahuila, Mexico (filmed near Albuquerque, NM) is the landscape of Blood Meridian, and a new Legion of Horribles boils up out of that vast desert land, moving human chattel north in just as Comanche raiders brought their slaves and contraband north after raids deep into that tormented land.
Given the times, the movie is going to be viewed through a coke-bottle thick and heavily-tinted political lens.
I seldom read reviews, and never give them credence. If I’m interested in a movie or a book, I prefer to take my chances and judge for myself. I did, however, read some of the advance on Soldado, because I’m interested in how reactions to a piece of art reflect a cultural moment. I find it interesting but entirely predictable that the harshest reviews utterly miss the mark, because the reviewers are writing about their own perceptions of what is and is not happening on the U.S.-Mexico border right now.
The catalyst for the action in Soldado is a terrorist attack perpetrated by an ISIS-affiliated cadre infiltrated across the border. An NBC reviewer peed down her leg over that — calling the whole thing a Sean Hannity fever dream. Apparently she missed the part where the story itself undermines and flips that narrative. The same reviewer, and others, treat Soldado as a poster for Trumpian anti-immigrant, pro-wall policy. Again, they’re not paying attention.
Operator Matt Graber (Josh Brolin) skewers faith in the efficacy of enhancing physical border security in an aside:
“Remember what happened to the price of cocaine after 9-11? Tight border is good for business.”
Soldado’s actual political statement has almost nothing to do with border policy, or Mexico per se. It’s about politicians who make a great show of taking the gloves off and getting tough in the wake of an attack or in the face of a threat — but recoil from the ground-truth consequences their decisions. The operators sent out on the killing floor get hung out when it gets messy; just another element to be cleaned up.
That’s a theme that has played out over and over and over again in modern American history, from the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam, from Central America to the Middle East. Political expediency always rules. It never changes. It’s not supposed to change.
As Homeland Security maven Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) says to Graber:
“You think change is the goal? Really? You’ve been doing this far too long to believe that.”
Notes in the margin:
- Could have done without the final “setting up the franchise” scene. Bah!
- Loved the revenant Alejandro. That’s either going to work for you or kick you out of the story — but it worked for me. A very Howardian moment — think A Witch Shall Be Born. With a hand grenade.
- Mechanix Wear gloves got excellent product placement. Brother John (who works for that noble outfit) is pleased. He should take the lovely Roxane to see the movie. Or … maybe not.
- I really, really like the music.