Sicario ended with Kate Macer completely shoved out of the action, so the only logical place for a sequel to start was with her entirely absent. At that point in the pre-game, someone should have been asking “Wait, what, make a sequel without the thing which made the first movie interesting? Does that seem … wise?” I assume that if anyone did ask that, they just shot him about eleventy million times and carried on with the plan.
The plan was to keep everything else about the first movie and double down on it. Breathtakingly stupid plan to foment trouble in Mexico? Check. Bunch of maniacs telling themselves that you need dirty people to do dirty work? Absolutely. Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro prowling around Mexico with way too much firepower and way too little oversight? You saw the first movie, didn’t you?
Their excuse for making south of the border even more of a mess than it already is could not be more simple. Drug cartels are into people smuggling, people who get smuggled might be terrorists, therefore drug cartels are terrorists, and it’s time to go all Afghanistan on their asses. The trigger for this thinking is three suicide bombers walking into a Walmart and somehow managing to kill only 14 people. I know that there isn’t much by way of performance review for suicide bombers, but if there were, I can imagine their managers trying to explain to them that they really hadn’t reached the exacting standards of their chosen profession. It’s still enough for the US to overreact and pick up the phone for Josh Brolin.
I’ve ranted in the past about the way in which big budget movies seem to run on the basis of working out the action setpieces ahead of time and then demanding that the writers come up with whatever it takes to string those setpieces into a narrative. Coherence is optional. Sicario 2: Soldado is like the small-budget action movie version of this problem; there’s suicide bombers, HALO parachute raids, urban assassinations and kidnappings, rolling ambushes in the middle of nowhere, and nothing which allows any of it to make any sense. “This” someone must have said “Will look great in the trailer.” Reality is this confusing and misconceived, but reality isn’t required to make sense. Perversely, when you make a movie which accurately captures the sheer wilful idiocy of the real world, it just looks stupid, not perceptive.
The puzzle is that the movie is trying to say, and perhaps more importantly what the people behind it thought that the audience was going to hear. Because Josh and Benicio are genuinely awful people, and the government nutbags who think they’re the answer to their problems are genuinely awful stupid people, but if you leave the audience to try to figure that out on their own, you’re going to wind up with a lot of people thinking that Josh and co are right, and that it’s only by being even worse than the people that you’re fighting that you can overcome the evils of the world. Eclipsing the world’s evil with your own is, I suppose, technically beating it, but it’s not exactly solving the problem you said you were worried about.
Why this feels confusing is that Sicario-the-actually-good-movie managed to get this point across, largely thanks to Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer. So it’s baffling that the same writer drops the ball so thoroughly the second time out. And the signs are that they’re planning a third movie. I’d like to say it can only be an improvement, but I think we all know how likely that is.