Grim ‘Sicario 2’ refuses to clean up its own mess

Andy Moser, Features Editor

My screening of Sicario: Day of the Soldado is one I won’t look back on fondly. The primary reason for this actually isn’t the movie itself (although we’ll get to that later), but the two oblivious gentlemen seated to my right who loudly gabbed the whole way through.

I can forgive the occasional whisper, but these gentlemen obviously had no concept of how irritating their constant remarks were, and they neglected to consider how their pointless commentary might be affecting other moviegoers around them. And if you couldn’t already predict it, they made sure to leave a mess by throwing their packets of Twizzlers and Raisinets on the ground. The theater puts trash cans on the way out for a reason, people!

I didn’t realize until after I got home that these two happened to be the perfect parallel for Soldado: A few individuals go to another place, tick everybody off and make a mess for other people to clean up.

2015’s Sicario deployed a similar plotline but held a key difference. We had a character to identify with who was not only meant to reflect our own thoughts and feelings, but also challenge our pre-conceived notions about the U.S.’s involvement in the “war on drugs.” This was agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a person with the noblest intentions, believing she could help make a difference until firsthand experience made her think twice about the legality of her team’s actions and their implications for Mexico’s citizens. This issue is, unfortunately, one Soldado has no interest in addressing.

Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his U.S. cohorts are let almost entirely off the hook. A semi-stern talking-to is quite a lenient consequence for starting a cartel war, antagonizing the Mexican government and putting a young girl in danger by kidnapping her and changing her life forever. Graver and his team have the luxury of crossing the border, cooking up chaos and getting back out whenever they please, yet Soldado pays distinctively less attention to those who have no choice but to stay and deal with the aftermath.

Instead, we’re given a heaping dose of gratuitous, self-serving violence that only works to reinforce the negative stereotypes many Americans already have in their minds about Mexico.

Still, Soldado’s story, however thin and problematic, is still told in grimly compelling style, thanks to director Stefano Sollima and solid work by Benicio Del Toro, who I’ve paid a criminal lack of attention to thus far. Let’s fix that.

Del Toro reprises his role as Alejandro, a hired killer working to help Graver achieve his goals. Back in Sicario, Alejandro’s only motivation for aligning with Graver was the opportunity to hunt down the cartel leaders responsible for torturing and murdering his family. At the beginning of Soldado, his motivations are the same. However, they change after he helps kidnap a kingpin’s daughter (Isabela Moner), who happens to remind him of his own. Alejandro’s new, self-assigned task is to get her into American territory where she can be safe. Del Toro portrays Alejandro with a cool edge while revealing his hopes and fears in the subtle interactions he has with Moner, and she works skillfully to bring them out of him. This, though, is the sad extent of Soldado’s humanity. Del Toro’s character is quickly returned to a stone-cold, dead-eyed killer who hints at training a new one in a potential third Sicario installment.

Sony Pictures

This Sicario sequel should be suitable for those seeking a hyper-masculine gore-fest, but anyone hoping for something beyond that will likely be disappointed. A glaring lack of awareness prevents any exploration into deeper thematic territory. Ultimately, Soldado refuses to engage the real issues at its core, and instead capitalizes off of paranoia and harmful stereotypes.

Sails: 2/5

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