The sequel, "Sicario: Day of the Soldado," is more of a horror/action film than the gruesome, gritty study of border realpolitik that the 2015 original was.
Border-crossing black ops renegades played by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro return, delivering the sort of intensity they usually do. Italian director Stefano Sollima -- replacing Frenchman Denis Villeneuve -- ups the fireworks considerably, using his characters as pawns in a grand-scale border war with shocking, often unbelievable set pieces.
Sollima crafts a tale of a covert conflict raging between the American government and drug cartels, with the former paying off contractors to do its dirty work to wrest control of the billion-dollar human trafficking industry from cut-throat criminals.
Brolin plays Graver, the mercenary mastermind given a blank check and green light to pick the cartels apart by whatever means he sees fit. Graver is bound by few scruples and an overwhelming urge to cause havoc subcontracts the
He's got a kindred soul in Gillick (del Toro), whose family was crushed by the cartels and holds an obsessive grudge against the kingpins who robbed him of his reason for living.
Graver and Gillick remorselessly blur the lines between good guys and bad as they undermine the cartels, staging attacks and kidnappings to turn the monied, trigger-happy underworld forces against one another.
The film slams on the gas pedal down its bumpy roads, plunging into a chain of action sequences that border on the unreal.
Bumping along from close-quarters interrogations, massive-scale firefights, breakneck car chases and sadistic confrontations with blades and bullets make the border seem unimaginably deplorably grim. Oftentimes, "Day of the Soldado" is more "Call of Duty: Black Ops" than cinema verite.
While the film's willingness to overexaggerate may be eye-roll worthy, there's no knocking its action chops. Taken as a grim escapist fantasy, "Day of the Soldado" triumphs in its war games with fierce determination.