Another winner from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (writer of not only the first “Sicario” but the best film of 2016 “Hell or High Water,” and writer-director of last year’s great “Wind River”) who at this point seems to do no wrong. While critics have been surprisingly harsh on this worthy sequel, fans will likely enjoy it–and it’s not necessary to have seen the first film either if you haven’t already and are worried about that, although you should seek it out whenever possible.
What Works: I wasn’t alive during the Steve McQueen heyday, but I imagine this is as close as we’ll come to that mix of soulful, wry machismo (Sheridan writes action films where there’s not a lunkhead in sight, pleasantly) and is probably topping it in the cerebral department. There’s Chris Pine’s hangdog bank robber in “Hell or High Water,” Jeremy Renner’s wounded-but-hyper-competent game tracker in “Wind River,” and (of course) Benicio Del Toro’s cartel victim turned nightmare here. [In the first film, Del Toro is a vengeful ex-lawyer who becomes a hitman-like operative that Josh Brolin’s CIA agent deploys for dirty jobs. Here, he gets another chance to take on the cartel that killed his family.]
He and Brolin are so effortlessly charismatic and capable that there’s a type of pleasure in just watching them go about their business, the way you might’ve enjoyed classic male movie stars of the studio era, but this time in a more R-rated setting.
What Doesn’t: It’s true that “Day of the Soldado” shifts gears at about the mid-point, and you might’ve wished they’d stuck to the original plot of seeing cartels pitted against each other. And you may also be wondering what happened to Brolin’s ingenious first-film plan to install Del Toro as the head of a cartel the CIA can control (seeing Del Toro’s character large and in-charge would be a worthy third film, reportedly already in the works), because it’s not even mentioned here. But all this feels like minor-quibbling with what is likely to be the best, most-well made sequel we’ll get this summertime.
What I Would’ve Done Differently: I’m not sure what’s wrong with the majority of critics since “Sicario 2” is just barely fresh, and is currently lower-rated than “Incredibles 2” (derivative rehash of the first film with no reason to exist other than money), “Solo” (sometimes clever but mostly just ho-hum, too long, poorly cast, apathetically paced, and containing no real visual style), and even “Ocean’s 8” (the most passionless and disposable of summer retreads), but let’s chalk it up to summer exhaustion or heat-wave-induced-fever. It’s ironic that at a time when people cannot stop complaining about the over-abundance of white male critics (as if there are literally any barriers to entry in becoming a movie critic, the majority of said white male horde work for entertainment sites so small they’re practically entrepreneurial), there’s actually no evidence at all they grade female-centric movies tougher than supposedly macho-ones. [Last year, “Lady Bird”–my own pick for the Best Film of 2017–became the highest rated film in Rotten Tomatoes history. So maybe there’s room for Sheridan’s work too.]
Also, it’d be great if Sheridan directed the third film, because it’s probably time to admit who this franchise’s real guiding hand is.