Sicario: Day Of The Soldado takes a look at another threat coming to the USA through the country to the south, and it involves the drug cartels. As border patrol agents round up illegal immigrants, one of the group makes a break. A brief chase ensues, ending with the runner detonating himself. It turns out this person was not a Central or South American, but a Muslim extremist from the Middle East who paid Mexican criminals for the opportunity to bring their terrorist acts to the US. Meanwhile, more Muslim terrorists target a store in Kansas City, setting off bombs that kill fifteen people. When Secretary Of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) asks CIA Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) about these incidents, Graver indicates that drug cartels have found a lucrative sideline that doesn't involve smuggling drugs. To send a message to the cartels, Riley allows Graver to go after the cartels without restriction. Matt then tracks down lawyer-turned-mercenary Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) and shares a plan where Alejandro and a team go after cartel associates and make the killings look like a drug war. This covert team also kidnaps Isabella Reyes (Isabela Moner), the teen daughter of a cartel leader. The kidnapping succeeds, but Graver and Gillick discover they weren't as secretive as they thought. As they prepare to return Isabella, Mexican police and federal agents assigned to escort the men open fire, forcing the team to kill the escorts.
The gunfight gives Isabella the opportunity for Isabella to escape, but Alejandro soon captures her. In the process, though, they become separated from Graver's team. The reunion further becomes complicated when the State Department learns that the border and Kansas City incidents are not connected. The shootout angers the President, which leads to Riley ending Graver's operation. Graver's superior, Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) orders Graver to make sure he leaves no trace of their involvement. Matt orders Alejandro to kill Isabella, which he refuses to do. For her protection, Alejandro tries to sneak Isabella into the US with a busload of illegals in an effort to protect her from the CIA. However, he is recognized from a previous encounter by Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez), a coyote who gets help from his associates to capture the pair. Graver, though, can track their movements, and launches a strike to carry out his directive.
The 2015 film Sicario made a point ib the war on drugs, though the point that film made was a familiar one. The sequel escalates the violence as Gillick and Graver fight two problems. The double crosses come with a great deal of predictability and very little sense of conscience. The previous film already established that Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver have devoted their lives to missions filled with darkness, and the mission in Day Of The Soldado is one that unleashes their darkest impulses. The mission also becomes implausible not only because of its no-holds-barred status, but also that two of the main characters become involved in an incident that would prove fatal had it happened in real life. Taylor Sheridan returns to write this sequel, but there's a change in this script that makes Day Of The Soldado less appealing. In the first film, they fought a battle they knew was more complicated than stopping the bad guys and their pipelines. Here, they pick the fight, and aren't as sneaky as they think. I'm not a big fan of Sicario director Denis Villeneuve, but Soldado director Stefano Sollima reduces this entry in the franchise to an undistinguished action picture that stretches credibility and makes its lead characters lesser human beings.
Del Toro and Moner make the best of their work in this unpleasant sequel. Alejandro gets a chance to share some of his back story with Isabella in a part of the movie that seems out of place with the overall tone of the film. The sequence, which involves Alejandro and Isabella taking refuge on a remote farm, shows he knows sign language, and helps them communicate to the hearing impaired farmer living there. In spite of the kill order on Isabella, he sticks with the mission's original intent and sticks to keeping the girl protected. Moner, as Isabella, is a spoiled teen who gets placed in a predicament she doesn't deserve. She shows she can be tough, but the toughness of her adversaries ultimately become overwhelming. She knows her father has enemies, and she has to trust one of them as Alejandro has to find a way to keep them alive. Brolin is adequate reprising Matt, but he doesn't have much to do except answer questions and fight. Keener and Modine are also woefully underutilized in their roles of greenlighting the mission, then trying to cover themselves when the situation changes.
Sicario: Day Of The Soldado is a movie that fails to live up to its predecessor. Instead of trying to stem chaos to the best of their ability, they create it. Their actions lead to a climax that is unsettling and unsatisfying in more ways than one. The beginnings of Soldado suggest Alejandro and Matt have to face a new opponent, but that story line gives way to the familiar and ever-present opponent. When cut loose, they simply shoot first and care little about consequences. As a result, I cared little as well.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Sicario: Day Of The Soldado 1.5 stars. A sequel that loses focus.