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Sicario 2: Soldado review - decent action thriller is a step down from the original

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Verdict: not as memorable as the first, but still a solid action-thriller.

Despite a strong opening, confident direction and great cinematography, Sicario 2: Soldado (2018) doesn't live up to the original. It's still a competent, engaging action thriller, but it's missing both the nerve-wracking tension and the human element that made the first movie so memorable.

A deadly terrorist attack on US soil is linked to Mexican drug cartels, prompting the CIA to send Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to deal with the issue. Graver once again enlists the help of Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), the lawyer turned hitman when the cartels killed his family, and sets out to start a war with the cartels. 

Their plan is to kidnap the daughter of a drug lord and blame it on a rival cartel, thus forcing their enemies to fight each other. So, just to recap, Soldado tackles the ongoing drug war at the US-Mexico border, the flood of illegal immigrants at said border and how dangerous some of them are, and also the main plot involves kidnapping a child.

Needless to say, there are a lot of hot-button political issues here that will undoubtedly turn some heads. To call Soldado's depiction of Mexico and its illegal immigrants unflattering would be a bit of an understatement, but then again, it's hardly a glowing endorsement of the US and its response.

Our protagonists are generally amoral and ruthless and their superiors are consistently shown to only care about optics as opposed to tangible results. 

One scene is noteworthy for featuring an American citizen, a white blonde lady, assisting the smuggling of illegal immigrants because it pays well - the exact same reason why a young Mexican boy named Miguel does it.

The point is, this movie is meant to bleak, cruel and morally grey - but it doesn't pull it off as well as its predecessor. The original Sicario was mainly told through the perspective of a somewhat naive and idealistic FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt).

Kate was kept in the dark through much of the film and was clearly not prepared for the brutal reality of taking on the cartels. Her perspective offered both a moral counterpoint to the ruthless methods of the CIA and helped build tension. She was out of her league and playing catch-up the whole time.

In the sequel, we follow Graver and Alejandro, who are very much at home in this kind of world. The story eventually throws them through some hoops and makes them question a few things, but it's too little, too late. 

We don't really learn anything more about them as characters. The minimalist approach worked in the first Sicario because they were meant to be shadowy, mysterious players that you couldn't quite figure out. In the sequel, they're the main focus, but without the substance to back that up. 

Brolin and Del Toro are solid leads and they do a good job, but it's not enough. The lack of character development is particularly evident when at one point Alejandro sticks his neck out for the daughter of the drug lord, Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), even though the two have barely interacted. 

By far the strongest aspect of Soldado is the cinematography. It captures the desolate, oppressive sense of scale of the first movie perfectly and is full of beautiful shots. Hildur Guðnadóttir's score is also similar to the late Jóhann Jóhannsson's work on the original. It's effective and sets the right tone.

As an action thriller, it's fine. As a sequel to Sicario, it's lacking. There are moments early on when it comes close to reaching the heights of the first movie, but as a whole, it's simply not as good.

Sicario 2: Soldado is released in UK cinemas on June 29th, distributed by Lionsgate.

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