Sicario: Day of the Soldado finds ample and interesting reason enough for a second invasion over the border but proves that not every film needs a sequel. While a solid entry and it's great to see Brolin and Del Toro side by side again outside of a Marvel flick, its tight premise is stretched thin in an effort to build a franchise foundation for further adventures. Well worth watching, but not on the same level as Sicario. Sony Pictures brings Sicario: Day of the Soldado to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a strong upscaled 2160p transfer with HDR10 and an active Dolby Atmos mix. Bonus features are unfortunately a bit slim while being somewhat informative. Fans of the first will want to give this one a go while newcomers really should start at the beginning. Recommended. (We also reviewed this film on Blu-ray.)
"…lets talk about your future."
The war on terror has opened a new front. Mexican drug cartels are offering Isis terrorists safe passage into the United States. With the cartels now designated as terrorist organizations, the President and his Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) need someone who knows how to fight dirty. Enter Matt Graves (Josh Brolin). As a man who has done his fair share of dirty work, he's the perfect man to turn the cartels against each other and start a war. Bringing in his right-hand assassin Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), they light the spark that will ignite a powder keg. But after the kidnapping of a cartel boss' daughter (Isabela Moner) goes sideways, the allegiance between Alejandro and Graves will be stressed to the breaking point.
Let me preface this review by stating Sicario, for me, was a five outta five flick. A thinking man's action movie, it brought the bullets and bloodshed while also providing strong characters with complex motivations. It took you on a journey into a world you likely don't know while raising interesting ideas for you to brood over as the credits rolled. In a lot of ways, it left me feeling like I did when I came out of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It was a smart action film with colorful characters that I wouldn't mind seeing in another adventure, but I didn't need to. I would keep coming back to for repeat viewings for years to come regardless if I felt the story was complete or not.
Sicario: Day of Soldado is at equal times the sequel we want to see but ultimately the one we don't need. Taylor Sheridan returned for writing duties with Stefano Sollima stepping into the director's chair. While it teases a larger world of counter-terrorism and the murky side of the global efforts to keep the U.S. border secure, the film also falls back on characters and scenarios we either already saw before or just wasn't worth exploring. As much as I love Del Toro, and he delivers a strong performance here, his mysterious Alejandro wasn't necessary for this go around. Without giving anything away of the first Sicario, it felt like his story was complete in those ambiguous closing moments. His character had run his arc. Here, Alejandro feels more perfunctory. He was in the first so he was more or less shoehorned into the second because he was the signature badass last time. While it was nice to see him again and he's adept at distributing painful bullet-driven revenge, I felt like many of his scenes could have been applied to Brolin's Graves, which, perhaps, would have also carved out a chunk of clunky material involving a wanna-be gangster in the last half, leaving it a leaner more impactful final product.
But that's just one of many possible fan-fixes that could have aided the clunky second half. In truth, the first half of Soldado works quite well. There's a great setup, a terrific reintroduction of old characters, and the addition of new major players who weren't seen in the first round but were probably hovering on the sidelines somewhere. I don't know if it was because of some of the rumored last-minute rewrites or if this was always in there, but the last half feels rushed and under-developed with a number of shoveled-in plot beats and threads that couldn't be adequately explored within a two-hour runtime. As our own Michael Palmer said about Sicario, Soldado also feels like the makings of a mini-series event that got cut down into a feature run when it needed a bit more room to breathe. I ultimately like where this film goes as I dig that final shot and what it implies, but there is a very rough patch of about 40 minutes to get you there.
Maybe it was high expectations or the simple fact that Sicario never really needed a sequel, but I came away from Day of Soldado a bit underwhelmed. At the end of the day, I do like it quite a bit. I do want to see more - especially after where they end things here - but I don't love this one nearly as much as the first Sicario. It's an average sequel; decent enough with an abundance of familiarity, some fantastic and thrilling action setpieces, and it leaves the window open for a future outing. However, if there is indeed going to be a third, I hope Taylor Sheridan has an ace up his sleeve with a compelling reason to come back for more.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Sicario: Day of the Soldado makes its way onto 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Sony Pictures in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. The discs are housed in a standard black 4K UHD case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to trailers for other upcoming Sony releases before arriving at a static image main menu with Sony's standard sliding navigation system. None of the bonus features are found on the 4K disc. The included digital copy redeems 4K through Movies Anywhere and unlocks full 4K UHD with Dolby Vision on Vudu.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado arrives onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with an upscaled 2.40:1 2160p transfer with HDR10 from a 2K digital intermediate. Dolby Vision is not an option on the disc, but the included digital copy does redeem 4K through Movies Anywhere with Dolby Vision on Vudu (more on that in a bit). While upscaled, the image offers a notable uptick in detail clarity over the 1080p Blu-ray - in particular for close-ups and middle shots. The first time we meet Brolin's grizzled Matt Graver is an example of this where his beard and long greasy hair offer more fine details giving him a much more hard and angry look. Clothing, production design again all enjoy marginal improvements where subtle patterning in clothing or the fabric of a piece of furniture comes into greater focus. I did spot some slight artifacting during the opening of chapter 5, but it's very brief and was apparent on the standard Blu-ray as well leading me to believe it's a cooked in issue and not so much a transfer problem.
With HDR10, the image enjoys a kick in the primaries without overdoing things. Reds, blues, and the abundant yellows throughout all see some nice enhancements. The desert scenes in the latter half of the film play some beautiful pairings with the tan/yellow sands and the vivid blue sky above. Flesh tones are a bit on the tan side of things but not so heavy as to complain too much. Whites are also better resolved with a lot less blooming than the Blu-ray. The scene in Matthew Modine's office with the white sky backgrounds pulls back the highlighting whites enough that you can see the background buildings much clearer.
Where things get interesting for the 4K disc's HDR10 pass and the digital streaming's Dolby Vision pass is in black levels and contrast. They aren't earth-shattering differences but they're subtle enough that if you do some screen switching it's pretty clear. On one hand, the HDR10 suffers a bit from the "set it and forget it" where colors and black levels, while inkier and more pronounced than the SDR Blu-ray, are a shade or two brighter than the Dolby Vision. This isn't a major shift mind you, but in a few sequences, the inkier deeper blacks of the Dolby Vision give the film a darker more ominous mood as Graver and Alejandro keep in the shadows and dark spaces of various well-lit rooms.
While that is a plus for Dolby Vision, a negative is in some of the night sequences things just look too dark. The brief scene where the Spec-Ops team halo jumps in the middle of the night to capture the smuggler Bashiir is an example. That scene in HDR10 is still dark, but light enough that you can actually make out some of the details of the soldiers as they fall. Dolby Vision goes dark almost to the point where they're shadowy blobs falling from the sky. There are a couple other sequences like this where it all becomes a bit of a splitting hairs scenario between the two HDR formats that will probably rest on user preference as the differences between the two are only slight offering individual strengths and weaknesses. Regardless, this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is a solid effort from Sony and provides a clean and clear improvement over the 1080p disc.
On 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is upgraded to a full object-based Dolby Atmos mix. Dollars to donuts in some side-by-side disc flipping comparisons, one would be hard pressed to find a lot of difference between the Dolby Atmos track and the already very impressive DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix found on the Blu-ray. Both do their respective jobs very well and provide an ominous mood towards a thinking man's action picture. With that in mind, there are a few moments where the Atmos mix handles things just a bit better.
The first real notable scene is during the nighttime halo jump where the scene is virtually silent and then ever so subtly the verticals kick in as the Spec-Ops team slowly falls into frame. It's not a loud or overly showy example, but it's pretty damn cool. Likewise any scene with any kind of aerial activity the verticals get a little more activity and playtime. The dessert ambush, where drones fire on the bad guys from above, is a nice bit where the whistle of the incoming missile slips down from above. Dialogue is well balanced throughout and, like the DTS-MA 7.1 mix, Hildur Guðnadóttir's score offers some great mood and atmosphere pumping up those low LFE tones giving that creepy dissonant vibes. Levels are spot on without any softness issues or need to raise the volume higher than you normally would.
Given how this series is aiming to become a franchise of sorts, I was hoping for a fairly robust bonus feature collection. Sadly what we get here doesn't exactly amount to much more than the tried and true EPK material. There are some interesting details to glean from this package, but it's not a whole lot of "must-see" material. All bonus feature material is found on the standard Blu-ray.
Sicario was a thinking man's action picture. It was a tight tense masterpiece of effective action shooting with some impressive moody character meditations. Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a solid sequel that wasn't needed, but still manages to expand the world and prove there is room enough for this little endeavor to be a franchise unto itself. Its first half is pristine action magic with a clunky and often confusing second half that manages to pull itself together in the final moments to give you a glimmer of things to come - should another sequel actually be green-lit. Sony Pictures delivers Sicario: Day of the Soldado onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in fine form with a well detailed and colorful upscaled 4K transfer with HDR10 and a Dolby Atmos mix that offers a modest upgrade over the standard Blu-ray. Bonus features may be informative but they're relatively unremarkable. Taken as a whole this is a worthwhile addition to the collection but not as razor-sharp as the first film. Recommended.