Sicario 2: Soldado

2018, Uncategorized

Dir: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Elijah Rodriguez

Sicario came out of nowhere and announced two blistering new talents. Denis Villeneuve, the director who went on to make Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and Taylor Sheridan, the actor turned screen writer who has since penned Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Villeneuve doesn’t return for this sequel, too busy with a new version of Dune, but Sheridan is once again behind the script. Also returning are stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Sicario wasn’t a film that I thought required a sequel, but nonetheless I was excited to see where Sheridan would take us next, and to spend some more time with these morally complex characters.

Sicario 2: Soldado starts with a terrorist attack. Perpetrated on US soil by 4 extremists. When it turns out that the first attacker to be identified had made his way to the US via the Mexico border, smuggled in by the drug cartel, the US government classifies the cartels as a terrorist organisation, changing the rules of engagement. The US bring in Josh Brolin, a black ops operative. His job is to start a war between the cartels, getting them to destroy each other, using the same techniques he used in Iraq. To do this he will need his Mexican Sicario, or hitman, played by Benicio Del Toro.

The film sets out its stall early on. Opening with a shot of helicopters patrolling the border in complete darkness, with only flashes of light revealing what’s happening on the ground. It works as a metaphor for how the film uses truth, and for our characters souls, operating in morally bankrupt spaces, only now and again finding the way to do what is right. Sicario 2 was always going to have to justify itself as a sequel, if it isn’t as good as the first one than what is the point of it? Yet here we are. It’s not as good as the first film, but it does expand upon it, and still feels like a worthy sequel. Smartly, Sheridan has shifted his tough world view away from the war on drugs, and onto the war on terrror. Using a new theme to again cynically explore the relationship between the US and Mexico.

If Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario represented the loss of innocence, here it’s about finding a slice of redemption. Brolin and Del Toro do terrific work as characters who have committed despicable acts, who are faced with decisions between morals and survival. Brolin may be the man of the moment right now, but Del Toro is the real heartbeat of this movie. His darkly, tragic hit-man is given just the right amount of soul by Sheridan. The film might not live up to Villeneuve’s direction, but Sheridan marks himself out here as the natural successor to Cormac McCarthy. The film may not hit quite as hard as the original, but it is still an emotionally charged, tense piece of cinema.

That’s not to say that Stefan Sollima, the incoming director, does poorly. He mounts set pieces incredibly well, whilst I enjoyed the way the action moved from a detached view during the opening terrorist attack to a more immediate feel during the climax. The villain of the piece is handled well too. In another story the Cartel leader would be a moustache twirling villain, here he isn’t even shown. In fact, nothing he does effects the plot of the film at all, what we are left with is characters in a tragic situation, where they start to become the villains. There is no good and bad here, just people stuck in a continuous cycle to survive.

It may lack some of the verve and bite of the original Sicario, but make no mistake, this is a worthy sequel. Brolin and Del Toro both do fantastic work, but the real star here is Sheridan, who continues his fantastic writing streak, in a film which marks him out as the next Cormac McCarthy.

7/10

Incredibles 2

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Helen Hunt, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Eli Fucile, and Sophia Bush.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since the first incredibles film was released back in 2004. Considered by many one of the best super hero movies ever made, the exploits of the Parr family were an instant classic, so it’s a surprise that in a world where we’ve had 3 Cars movies, 3 Toy Story movies, a sequel to Monsters Inc. and a sequel to Finding Nemo, that it’s taken this long. That’s mainly down to writer and director Brad Bird, who has been spending his time in live action, having directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland in the years between. He returns here, bringing his retro-futuristic style back to the big screen. A cynic would say that it’s a safe move after the box office failure of Tomorrowland, but I’d like to believe he felt he had a good enough idea to warrant going back.

Incredibles 2 starts exactly where the first film left off. With Underminer attacking the city, and the Parr family suiting up to stop him. It doesn’t go perfectly, and the Parrs’ get a wrap on the knuckles as they are reminded that superheroes are illegal. Dejected, the Parr family go back to motel living whilst Bob contemplates taking back his old job. This is when Winston and Evelyn Deavor show up. The brother and sister duo behind a huge tech company who want to help legalise heroes again. To do this they require Elastigirl to be the new face of supers. She wreaks the least amount of havoc during her heroics. So whilst Helen Parr is off fighting crime as Elastigirl, it’s up to Bob to look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack whose powers are just starting to emerge.

Structurally, Incredibles 2 follows the same format as the first movie. The premise here though is the role reversal between Bob and Helen. This time it’s Bob left at home, and Helen is the one who gets to shine as a superhero. Bird deftly cuts between the two, finding a sweet balance between huge action sequences and domestic comedy. If the structure is familiar, it does allows for new avenues to be explored. In the first movie Helen’s domestic story revolved around believing Bob was having an affair, here though Bob has to learn to set aside his own pride to allow his wife to shine, and work out that sometimes a subtler approach to parenting is needed. Helen’s action beats could be considered as more of the same superhero antics, but Bird changes the tone here from the first film. Elastigirl is a different kind of hero from Mr Incredible, and the tone reflects that. She uses her brain as much as her powers, and her action beats have more of a Batman influence to them, especially a night time scene which combines the best of The Dark Knight and Batman: The Animated Series.

If the action sequences thrill, the thing that holds the film together is the comedy. The film really soars when the super heroics are combined with everyday family life. This is best summed up when Jack-Jack meets a raccoon. It’s action packed and hilarious, by far the stand out scene in the movie. In a way though it showcases the fact that Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite hit the very high watermark of the first film. Helen is on her own doing the super heroics, and Bob’s parenting, especially of Dash and Violet, is rarely informed by their powers. The scenes with Jack-Jack stand out so much because they flawlessly combine domestic life with super powers.

As we’ve come to expect from sequels the roster of heroes is expanded. We get to meet the new superheroes at a dinner party, which is reminiscent of Watchmen. The disappointment is that they don’t really add much to the film. The only one that stands out is Voyd, who seems to have been modelled on Kristen Stewart. It feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. The villain is suitably different enough from the first film, coming across as a mix between Bane and The Riddler, but is let down by a telegraphed end of second act twist, which is almost identical to the first film.

Incredibles 2 is a fantastic super hero movie. The action is fun, and the jokes are hilarious. It’s flaws are only exposed by the fact it has to measure up to The Incredibles, one of the best super hero movies ever made. If the structure feels slightly tired, it does add plenty of new ideas and tones, some work, and some don’t. It doesn’t plum the emotional depths that we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining ride.

7/10