‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ — a haphazard sequel lacking heart, and coherence

There’s a scene at the beginning of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” that’s an annoying dog whistle, a call out to those extremists who seem to think that illegal immigration and terrorism are the same thing and that every brown person is either a drug dealer or a suicide bomber. The events that open the film are never revisited, nor do they bear on the plot in any substantial way. I wouldn’t say the remaining film, a sequel to a much superior action thriller from 2015, is great in any way, but it is much more subtle and thoughtful than the opening scene would have you believe.

It would be an understatement to say that I was annoyed at the beginning of this movie, which suggests that Mexican Cartel leaders opened the gates to Islamic extremists, allowing them to come in and blow up a bunch of poor white Americans.

Illegal immigration is a problem, to be sure, but not for the reasons that fear mongers want us to believe. Most of the people crossing the border illegally are either running from something — sometimes that thing is the law, but mostly it’s some kind of persecution, or they are doing it for economic reasons.

The first “Sicario,” besides being a dark revenge tale, showed how the brutality of the Cartels and the defacto criminalization of the immigration process has turned the management of it over to criminals. Sure, a small number of the border crossers are bad people, but there’s simply no evidence to show that terrorists or murderers are streaming across the borders.

As this current film goes on, it settles into a similar vein from the original, this time comparing and contrasting the cruelty of the cartels and their coyotes with the moral ambiguity of the DEA agents tasked with stopping them. Shadowy agent Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin, takes the war to the Cartels, bringing back into the fold Alejandro, the bereaved assassin from the first film, played again by Benecio Del Toro. Hoping to foment insurrection, Graver and Alejandro pose as rival Cartel members and kidnap the daughter of a kingpin. When things go sideways and the call is made to eliminate the girl and sweep the entire affair under the rug, alliances are suddenly called into question.

In pieces, “Soldado” works well enough. There are a couple of action sequences that are pretty exciting, and there are a few surprises that I didn’t see coming.

But as a whole, it’s a pretty haphazard affair. As I mentioned, the inciting event from the opening is never really addressed again and for all the rhetoric about how “the gloves are off” and the implication that the border was going to go up in flames, in reality the whole operation is a flop.

Nothing works the way Graver and Alejandro intend, and their plan never progresses farther than the initial kidnapping.

I was also a little disturbed at the nihilism of this film. Every character is bad in some way or another. The first film had a touch of that, but at least Emily Blunt’s character gave us some hope, even as she lost her own.

I was also bothered, perhaps unreasonably so, by the title. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” What does this even mean? I understand that Alejandro is a soldier in the war against the Cartel, but are we just using Spanish as a cutesy gimmick now? And if you’re going to make the title Spanish, do the studios think we’re too stupid to be able to translate “day of the” into “dia del?” Even if you forget the Spanglish, it’s a weird title. Is he a soldier or an assassin (sicario)? And why the “day”?

This movie was probably destined to fail since original director Denis Villanueve was not involved. Yes, most of the original cast was back, but the heart was not. Sure, the original “Sicario” was not a laugh-riot or anything, but at least it was coherent, a description I can’t apply to “Soldado.” Grade: C-

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is rated R for pervasive violence and language.

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