Director Stefano Sollima takes the reigns on this, the sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s critically acclaimed 2015 film Sicario, which sees FBI agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the enigmatic hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) reunite to ignite a war between the warring Mexican cartels, who have been transporting terrorists across the US/Mexico border. They abduct the daughter of the notorious gang leader Carlos Reyes, who was responsible for the death of Alejandro’s family, and elsewhere, young Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) is recruited into Reyes’ organisation, assisting in transporting people over the border.
Soldado starts off decently enough as the dialogue still appears to be pretty sharp and it’s satisfying to see Matt and Alejandro reunite, carrying on with Alejandro’s quest for vengeance that was brilliantly set up in the first film. The setup for the new story appears quite interesting as the idea of abducting the daughter of a major “player” opens up so many potential avenues of thrilling developments and for a certain amount of time, Soldado seems to be taking the overarching story in a solid direction, introducing a twist or two in the tale that keep things interesting.
But afterwards, the story takes a downward turn because after the intriguing kidnapping section, the film trails off and the story starts to get increasingly muddled, dull and regrettably quite pointless. At a certain point, it appears as though all the characters are doing is constantly going back and forth across the border for no real reason and even the kidnapping thread ultimately winds up being superfluous and anticlimactic. The film culminates with a HIGHLY nonsensical moment involving Alejandro (one that I’m sure provoked a tiny bit of laughter from the people sitting behind me) and the disappointing and rushed final scene annnoyingly leaves so many questions left unanswered, only existing as a setup for a potential sequel.
On that note, it seems likely that a concluding chapter will soon be in the works and I’m assuming (and hoping) that it will be an explosive and climactic finish but if that happens, then Soldado may very well be remembered as simply being the bridge between parts one and three, since not enough interesting things happen in this particular instalment.
It will come as a big shock to many but Taylor Sheridan’s script and story is one of the main reasons why the film doesn’t quite work because after the halfway point, character motivations go here, there and everywhere and the story becomes increasingly messy, confused and uneventful and even though we’re promised that there will be “no rules this time”, the film doesn’t feature any standout scenes you’d want to write home about. Also, given the absence of Emily Blunt, there’s a lack of heart and humanity, though a few scenes involving Alejandro and Isabel do introduce a “softer side”, but even these moments are ultimately too brief and are not expanded upon properly.
Sollima’s direction is decent enough as he stages the few shootout scenes well, giving the film a few jolts when needed, and he makes sure the film looks as good as it possibly can with the help of Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography (although there are no shots as memorable as those given to us by the incredible Roger Deakins in the first film) but he fails to create the essential tension, suspense and urgency (even in a pivotal standoff right at the end) and pacing is a major issue because as it stands, Soldado is too slow and leisurely, most of it staying on the same humdrum level throughout. Tonally, the film is perhaps a little too bleak and it lacks heart, though the few scenes between Alejandro and Isabel give it a little emotional depth.
Lastly on the technical front, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is alright, at its best in those Alejandro/Isabel scenes, but is overall too heavy, bleak and cumbersome. In Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson (R.I.P.) occasionally used a dirge-like sound in exactly the right places to emphasise the gargantuan task at hand but here, the droning dirge sound is overused (played throughout the closing credits) and it makes Soldado that bit more of a downer.
As for the cast, the unfairly buff Josh Brolin returns as
Thanos Cable Matt Graver and here, he’s meaner, tougher and far more dangerous than before; his characterisation is a little troublesome as he’s a bit too two-dimensional and his motivations are often unclear and inconsistent but the always reliable Brolin fully throws himself back into the part and he effortlessly gives off that “force to be reckoned with, takes no prisoners” vibe. And as the world weary and solitary Alejandro, Benicio Del Toro has much more to do and to say this time around and while it’s nice to see him take centre stage a bit more, his character was far more effective in the preceding film, having little to no dialogue and always keeping us guessing what was going on inside his head. Del Toro and Brolin are highly charismatic leads who work well together, though they do look a little bored in places.
Elsewhere, Isabela Moner is really quite impressive and intense as the kidnapped daughter (this really is a golden age for child actors), going on to be the Dafne Keen to Del Toro’s Hugh Jackman; she’s a strong performer but is done a disservice by the script because her character is too inconsistent – she starts off as a fiery, rebellious, troublemaking terror but almost immediately becomes far too passive and submissive, a real shame. Matthew Modine and Catherine Keener are the other big names to be found in the film but they don’t exactly dazzle – they just do their jobs and move on.
In the end, not much actually happens in Soldado and the whole thing is ultimately quite pointless and unsatisfying, despite the decent opening, pleasing visuals and game cast – not something you’d want from a Taylor Sheridan penned script. To put it harshly, given the absence of Villeneuve, Blunt, Deakins and Jòhannsson, this film may soon be remembered as a . . . direct-to-video sequel. Gasp!