Sicario 2: Soldado
2 stars
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Duration: 121 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

2015’s Sicario was a remarkable thriller, built on the moral quandaries faced by the authorities tasked with stemming the flow of crime and violence wrought on the volatile (and ever news-worthy) US - Mexico border.

The critical success of that movie definitely commanded a sequel, which finds two of its stars – Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin –  and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan,  returning to the fray.

Sicario 2 - Soldado finds things have improved not a jot. On the contrary, things have undoubtedly worsened, as Mexican drug cartels have begun to smuggle terrorists across the border.

When a particularly heinous suicide bombing causes carnage in a Kansas City supermarket, the government, represented by Secretary of State James Ridley (Matthew Modine) and the CIA hatch a plan that will provoke war between rival cartels.

Enter CIA agent Matt Graver (Brolin) and the enigmatic operative Alejandro Gillick (del Toro), who fake the kidnapping of the teenage daughter of a top Mexican drug kingpin.

Yet, when things become out of hand, both men find themselves in a moral quandary as their loyalties to the cause are severely tested.  In the meantime, Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a young teenager, becomes heavily involved in the migrant-smuggling racket at the behest of his cousin.

This time round there is more focus on the action and violence and less emphasis on character, which is detrimental to the film

Sheridan, a native Texan who clearly understands the moral quagmire provoked by the situation on the border once more imbues his screenplay with compelling grit and grime.

He creates a series of action set pieces to illustrate the story. Bullets fly, bombs explode and bodies fall with alacrity as the warring factions on either side of the good/evil divide resort to violence.

It’s not just mindless action, however – the depiction of the initial supermarket bombing is chilling, as a mother begs for her and her young daughter’s lives while inching slowly towards the supermarket entrance and safety, mere metres away from one of the bombers whose thumb floats ominously above the trigger. The plight of the young kidnap victim –a tough schoolyard bully of a privileged child, yet still a child – unfolds with suitable suspense and terror.

Yet, this time round there is more focus on the action and violence and less emphasis on character, which is detrimental to the film as a whole. The original film co-starred Emily Blunt as an FBI agent who, in a manner of speaking, was the audience’s eyes and ears. She served as the film’s conscience as she was reluctantly, drawn into the murky grey of the ‘end justifies the means’ morality of the authorities’ actions.

And, while in the sequel the protagonists do get to face a moral quandary, it is not depicted with the deep complexity of the original. That these characters would so easily consider the life of a young girl to be expendable may, at a glance, tend towards the unrealistic, a mere plot device used to heighten the tension.

That said, the headlines dominating the news of late, of children separated from their parents and locked up in cages on the border, had me rethinking that it’s not so unrealistic after all.

Also, the sub-plot that tracks Miguel’s journey from ordinary kid to gangster, is not entirely convincing. It proves to be merely a setup for a further chapter in the series, resulting in an ending that is a tad far-fetched.

The little sense of conscience the film displays lies with Del Toro’s character and the actor builds on his character’s past. He is a man who can’t find peace after the brutal murder of his family, as he finds himself at odds with his colleagues as he strives to protect the young girl. He ends up in an impossible situation.

Brolin, on the other hand, has now got the tough guy role down pat. Yet, he doesn’t do much to advance  the character who we met the first time round, as he chews gum and barks out orders in his uniform of cargo shorts and flip-flops. And, in a movie dominated by puremachismo, the only other female character, Agent Cynthia Foards, portrayed by Catherine Keener, has little to do.