When art imitates American politics
The start of Sicario: Rise of the Soldado plays out like some kind of fever dream for current events, discussions and a wet dream for US President Donald Trump.
Under the watchful night eye of a US squad, a group of hopeful migrants race toward the US border - but their fleeing freedom is stopped by soldiers. However, surrounded, one of them reveals they're wearing a suicide vest, before detonating it. Moments later, a group of nondescript men walk into a supermarket, and blow themselves up.
Visually, it's shocking and terrifyingly prescient.
Yet, unlike the opening of the original 2015 Sicario where bodies in walls were discovered, it lacks the subtlety of horror and sets the stage for what loosely could be defined as a Call Of Duty: Cartels version of the movie.
Returning once again are Josh Brolin's gruff Matt Graver who teams up with Benicio Del Toro's Alejandro as events begin to unfold. With the US Government deciding to sanction an illegal kidnapping operation to spiral a war between the cartels, the duo are thrust into proceedings as leader and recruit respectively.
However, as the operation goes on, the duo find their allegiances and their quests tested.
There's no denying the tension of the grim and gritty Sicario: Rise of the Soldado. Scenes unfold with dread and as the knotty politics play out, there's a feeling that what's happening is not going to end well.
Wiry and spry, Del Toro is excellent, as is Brolin, whose actions convey more than his words could. In fact, both these two do more with less throughout as events unravel - minimalism may be the soldier's way but these two make it watchable and compelling throughout.
And while the film's executed well, it feels less fresh and enticing as 2015's Sicario did. It lacks the addition of an innocent face (as provided by Emily Blunt's agent in the first flick) and consequently becomes a grim exploration of politics, rather than the human touch brought by the first.
There are elements of that humanity within Isabela Moner's performance, as she goes from hard-bitten scrapper-in-the-school-yard to victim of her father's connections, but it's nowhere near as strong as the previous narrative.
Sollima (TV's Gomorra) strings together a series of overhead shots, convoy tensions and scenes of conflict with certain directorial flair (even if the menacing OST drowns things out at times) and despite some grim humour, the film grips but never fully suffocates as the first did.
Make no mistake though, Sicario: Rise of the Soldado is no less a compelling watch because of it, but the strength and power of the first Sicario still outshines what feels like a story that wants to shock and outrage but lacks the finesse to fully do so on a narrative front.
Sicario: Rise of the Soldado
Cast: Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Catherine Keener, Isabela Moner
Director: Stefano Sollima