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While I was very impressed by 2015’s Sicario, I wasn’t completely convinced that the film needed a sequel. I’m still not entirely convinced that the film needed a sequel, but Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a very impressively made thriller, and while it will most likely be dissected for its continuation of the “cycle of violence” themes perpetrated by the first film, its a purely visceral experience that’s operating on a high functioning technical level. While he doesn’t quite have as taught and reserved a touch as Denis Villeneuve, director Stefeno Sollima has crafted a nail biting suspense piece that uses violence and set pieces to only increase our sense of dread and anxiety.

With drug cartels now classified as terrorist organizations, C.I.A. agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is enlisted by the U.S. Government to start a conflict amongst the drug cartels. Graver enlists his old ally Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), but Alejandro has his own motivations for hunting down cartel leadership and is determined to carry out justice his own way. Despite some mildly cheesy military dialogue and a strange desire to give every character a “badass introduction moment,” the character work here is very strong; Graver is forced to wrestle with the ugly side of an already ugly business, and Alejandro remains an enigmatic character who’s tragic history guides his hyper-focused missions.

While the film asks a lot of questions about the place of the U.S. on the border and its role in the violent conflicts, perhaps too many questions to be asked in a two hour action movie, it’s a relatively straightforward story regarding the capture of a cartel leader’s daughter. While the scope is lightly less focused than in the first film, the simplicity of the story allows the hyper-violent shootouts and brutality to see more authentic, and even when it’s easy to get lost in the nuances of the story, Benicio del Toro remains a riveting actor to watch onscreen. The side characters all contribute to the story and are given payoffs overtime, and while some could accuse the ending of being a little corny and on the nose, I liked the way it opened up the possibilities of the universe while acknowledging the harshness of its reality.

The final act of Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a masterful sequence of seemingly catastrophic events, where each sequence could’ve easily served as a denouement. It’s surprising, shocking, and very well executed, with Sollima keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the film. It’s a thoroughly nasty film, and while it lacks the moral center that Emily Blunt’s character provided to the first film, it’s a captivating experience. Grade: B+