If you thought the follow-up to 2015's "Sicario" had the potential to be better than the original then dream on. Especially given the fact that original director Denis Villeneuve isn't part of the sequel, titled "Day of the Soldado." Ditto actress Emily Blunt, who gave a resonant performance as the conflicted FBI agent in the original film.
Stefano Sollima jumps into the director's chair, an Italian TV director with not much feature-film experience, but who, nevertheless, shows a knack for well-realized action despite having no clue how to properly structure his film into the cohesive whole needed to make a cinematic feature.
The good news is that Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan ("Hell or High Water," "Sicario," and "Wind River") is back. Ditto Josh Brolin as Matt Graver, the sandal-wearing undercover agent, whose task in the sequel is to create a war between Mexican drug cartels. He wants to kidnap the 16-year-old daughter of a drug kingpin, and make believe the rival gang did it. It's all about the bad guys destroying each other in a civil war with minimal FBI casualties because, well, the FBI wants out of the war zone when it happens. Enter Benicio Del Toro, back as Alejandro Gillick, a U.S. secret-ops ally who tries to deliver Graver's vision on the battlefield.
Del Toro and Brolin are fine here, when do they ever fuck up? But the thinly drawn-out plot by Sollima isn't enticing enough to interest you. I'm sure Sheridan meant for his words on the page to be translated on-screen in the same poetic way as Villeneuve and David Mackenzie did with his other scripts, but the hiring of Sollima seems suspect and that fact that they decided to move on with this sequel despite Emily Blunt's absence is odd.
Even worse, when the film starts to focus on Gillick and his journey with the 16-year-old girl the film loses its focus. There never is the feeling that much is at stake. You are never really sucked into the frames created by Sollima in the same way Villeneuve and his DP extraordinaire Roger Deakins lured you back in 2015. That's the problem with "Day of the Soldado," the first installment's shadow looms large around it. There's no escaping the fact they already got it right the first time around. [C]