Josh keeps Brolin, Brolin, Brolin at the box of­fice in his third block­buster of the sum­mer.

DI­REC­TOR Ste­fano Sol­lima

CAST Beni­cio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Cather­ine Keener, Is­abela Moner

PLOT Af­ter a US bomb­ing is linked to Mex­i­can peo­ple-smug­glers, covert ops ex­perts Graver (Brolin) and Gil­lick (Del Toro) are en­listed to help the CIA in­cite war be­tween ri­val car­tels, but the two men soon find them­selves on op­pos­ing sides. APPRAISE THE DE­TAILS of this se­quel to 2015’s dark, drug war mas­ter­piece — no De­nis Vil­leneuve, no Roger Deakins, no Emily Blunt — and you’d be for­given for hear­ing the steady klaxon of mul­ti­ple alarm bells. Well, those warn­ings won’t sound for very long af­ter the lights go down in the cinema. Si­cario 2: Soldado be­gins with one of the year’s most scin­til­lat­ing, pin-you-toy­our-seat open­ing se­quences (built around a sui­cide bomb­ing scene that nails the chill­ing ba­nal­ity of mod­ern terror) and only cranks things up from there. In fact, by the time the last bod­ies have fallen and the bor­der coun­try dust has cleared, the only thing re­ally blot­ting this fol­low-up is a mildly frus­trat­ing end­ing.

Be­fore then, all you can do is marvel at how the re­con­fig­ured Si­cario team — new di­rec­tor Ste­fano ‘Go­mor­rah’ Sol­lima, in­com­ing cine­matog­ra­pher Dar­iusz ‘The Mar­tian’ Wol­ski and re­turn­ing screen­writer Tay­lor Sheri­dan — have man­aged to build on the mil­i­tarised drug en­force­ment pur­ga­tory ren­dered first time around. Af­ter that in­cit­ing terror at­tack leads to a breath­tak­ing, re­tal­ia­tive Zero Dark Thirty-style raid in Dji­bouti, we are rein­tro­duced to smirk­ing black ops rogue Matt Graver (Brolin), who soon finds him­self in front of the Sec­re­tary of De­fense, James Ri­d­ley (Mo­dine).

Ri­d­ley ex­plains that — be­cause the re­cent sui­cide bombers were traf­ficked to Amer­ica by the car­tels — the un­seen, faintly Trumpian Pres­i­dent wants to add Mex­i­can gangs to the list of terror or­gan­i­sa­tions. To achieve this he needs Graver to whip up a con­flict be­tween drug crews. So Graver pe­ti­tions soul­ful death­bringer Ale­jan­dro Gil­lick (Del Toro) to help him abduct the daugh­ter of fear­some king­pin, Reyes. Mean­while, we are also fol­low­ing Miguel (Ro­driguez), a seem­ingly un­re­lated young man be­ing in­ducted into car­tel life by his cousin.

It’s quite a fid­dly lead-in to the nar­ra­tive meat of the film. But it even­tu­ally clicks the det­o­na­tor on a break­neck series of set-pieces that show­case Sol­lima’s eye for au­then­ti­cally chaotic, prac­ti­cal stunt­work. Soon, the mis­sion has tipped into dis­as­ter and CIA boss Cyn­thia Foard (Keener) is ask­ing Graver to “clean the scene” by killing both Gil­lick and Is­abel.

In­ter­sect­ing with Miguel’s tale, things hur­tle to a ni­hilis­tic con­clu­sion. Or at least un­til, at the last mo­ment, a touch of comic book im­plau­si­bil­ity bleeds into Si­cario’s cap­ti­vat­ingly bleak, grimly re­al­is­tic world. The long-term rea­son­ing be­hind the de­ci­sion is clear enough. But you can’t shake the feel­ing that — for the sake of a myth-stretch­ing tril­ogy — we have been de­nied a near-flaw­less two-movie state­ment.

VER­DICT Thrillingly paced, rav­ish­ingly shot and eerily top­i­cal, Si­cario 2 re­tains much of its pre­de­ces­sor’s dark charm de­spite its shuf­fled cre­ative per­son­nel. But a jar­ringly Hol­ly­wood end­ing dulls its over­all im­pact.

“Yes, one size does fit all.”

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