Three years on from the astonishing Sicario, we return to the US-Mexico border, where Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) continue the fight against Mexican drug cartels.

On-screen, the obvious omission this time is Emily Blunt. However, hers isn’t the biggest loss going into this film. Kate’s story seemed fully told, so narratively it was a wise decision not to bring her back. Most concerning was the absence of director Denis Villeneuve, too busy Blade Running to return for a sequel.

No Villeneuve also means a lack of legendary Director of Photography Roger Deakins and, tragically, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was unable to build on his incredible Sicario score having passed away aged 48 earlier this year.

Quite amazingly, despite all of this, Sicario 2: Soldado doesn’t just hold up well, it actually serves as an exceptional sequel. Largely because the real creator of this world is writer Taylor Sheridan, who returns to follow up the story that formed his debut screenplay, which in 2015 announced him as a seriously exciting new screenwriter.

Once more he has shown a penchant for writing great action movies with a socio-political backdrop. This time he tackles illegal immigration, drug cartels and governmental thirst for war. The first entry was a contained, mysterious glimpse into this murky world but here he expands the story and explores its wider context. If Sicario opened the door and let us into reception, Sicario 2 takes us several floors up, exposing just how high up the political ladder this seedy underworld goes.

Keeping the story grounded are new additions Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) and Isabel (Isabela Moner), both symbols of how young people are affected by cartels. Furthermore, Sheridan adds a real depth to his leads. Del Toro’s Alejandro, a brutally violent mercenary, is somehow given tremendous humanity, which Del Toro accesses just as easily as he does menace.

Meanwhile the Summer of Brolin continues. Having already destroyed planets as Thanos and caused havoc as brutal cyborg Cable, this (at times) is his most villainous role of the year. In Sicario he was confined by the mystery of the character. Here he gets to delve deeper into the psyche of what drives Matt – who he is, what he does and why he does it. Displaying shocking ruthlessness, Brolin looks frighteningly at home in the role.

The creative absence felt most is Roger Deakins’ masterful cinematography. Dariusz Wolski swaps Deakins’ bold oranges and blues for a duller, chrome colour palette. It’s nowhere near as visually pleasing as the original. It’s still very well shot, but an insight into the difference between a very good DP and one of the all-time greats.

Off-screen, Hildur Guðnadóttir does an admirable job composing the score. He delivers an effective, immersive musical accompaniment which often harks back to Jóhannsson’s magnificent work.

Anchored by two great lead performances and an able director in Stefano Sollima; Sicario 2 is a tense, gripping return to a fascinating world, clearly crafted with love and care by its writer. With unique themes, issues and perspectives under the microscope, this film successfully expands on the Sicario-verse by further exposing the brutal nature of border control and the war against drugs. As Brolin’s character points out; thanks to illegal immigration, people are now a more valuable commodity for cartels than cocaine.  

4 stars

Image Credit: Movie DB

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