The day before I saw Sicario: Day of the Soldado, I read an article by Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff that placed this film in the current geopolitical context. It definitely influenced my own viewing experience of this latest chapter of the struggle between the CIA and Mexican drug cartels, but I suspect that had I seen it earlier, I still would have come to much the same conclusion, which is to say: this could not be coming out at a worse possible time. As terrorists who may have been illegally smuggled across the border blow themselves up in a Kansas City superstore, it is impossible not to think of the president who has accused our neighbors to the south of sending their worst into our countries and how he would use such an incident to justify splitting apart asylum-seeking families. That is not to say that Day of the Soldado presents a racist worldview, or is wholly in support of America’s defense policies, far from it. It is just that in the case of a sequel that is fundamentally unnecessary, it is hard to make peace with its presentation of insidiously disturbing images, no matter how nuanced or ambiguous they may be.

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The difference between the first Sicario and Soldado in purpose alone is stark. The original was doubly subversive, as it placed a woman at the center of a typically male-driven genre, but then proceeded to undercut her at every stage, frustrating any hope for a truly successful mission. But the sequel is merely a continuation of the story, offering action thrills while only occasionally commenting on them. It is a B-movie through and through. It satisfies when its craftsmanship is effective, as with its constant tension and an original score from Hildur Guðnadóttir that sounds like it is continually devouring everyone’s souls. But it can also inspire howls of derision, as when the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) makes announcements from the cheapest of TV movie-quality sets.

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The CIA of Soldado operates under the idea that the best way to combat the cartels (or at least one way to combat them) is by fighting chaos with more chaos, as agents kidnap the daughter of a drug lord (Isabela Moner) in the hopes of sparking a war between rival cartels. Understandably, it all goes awry, making the whole endeavor against drug smuggling feel so pointless. One would hope that the film would be pointed in its portrayal of pointlessness, but it never quite gets there. A bright spot is the continuing story of undercover operative Alejandro, with Benicio del Toro deep into a compelling portrait of a persistent man who insists upon survival. There is something almost supernatural about his ability to maintain a shred of decency in these extreme circumstances. Amidst all the unfortunate resonance and ominousness, his presence somehow manages to convey a sliver of hope.

Starring: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Elijah Rodriguez, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Donovan, Matthew Modine

Director: Stefano Sollima

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: R for Oppressive Gunfire and the Bloody Messes It Leaves Behind

Release Date: June 29, 2018