So who is scarier, Terrorists or Narcos? This distinction has a lot to do with today’s video, and why I take the Sicario sequel so much less seriously than I do the first one. For me the answer is simple and obvious. Narcos are infinitely scarier than Terrorists. I rag on Al Queda and ISIS all the time. And I do it from a Muslim country. As far as I’m concerned they are a bunch of ridiculous losers, either working directly for the CIA, or indirectly for the Pentagon by helping them inflate US military budgets. “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is largely the result of some poor choices on the part of the US back in the 1980s, and it is in the process of quickly evaporating. I am perfectly comfortable pointing stuff like that out, and broadcasting that message from most Muslim countries.
Would I ever make a video talking about Mexican drug cartels like that? Hell no. Not from Mexico. Not from anywhere. I’m a coward, and Narcos are legitimately scary. They are not the result of a few poor choices by the CIA and the US government (that continues to support Saudi Arabia), they are the result of deep human needs, and deep confusion about the way to deal with those needs. Marijuana legalization may help diminish the power of these cartels, but it’s not like heroin or cocaine are getting legalized any time soon. Drug trafficking, and the powerful criminal networks around it are going to be with us for quite some time.
Both Sicario movies open with horrific acts of violence. The first focuses on a crime carried out by Narcos, that is certainly exaggerated for film purposes, but that seems grimly plausible. The second Sicario movie opens up with a multiple suicide bombing of a shopping center in Kansas City carried out by motivated international terrorists. It was pretty gross, but I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. The whole concept of an organized terror attack in middle America just seemed so silly. In 2002 the preceding sentence would have felt like tempting fate, but at this point I think we can concede: ISIS isn’t coming for Peoria.
There’s a lot wrong with Sicario’s sequel, as I point out in detail in today’s video. But it may be this fundamental silliness more than anything else that put me off the film. Narcos are a real, enduring and very serious threat. Jihadi terrorists are a sad joke, and any movie that talks about them like they are serious just strikes me as US government propaganda. Which is a fair description of Sicario: Day of The Soldado.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Ladies and gentlemen, Sicario Day of the Soldado is the worst sequel of all time. It’s like somebody paid Zach Snyder to make a sequel to Citizen Kane. Or as if somebody paid Michael Bay to turn Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket into an action franchise.
To give you a sense of the tragedy of this film, we have got to talk about Sicario, one of the best films of the decade. On its own terms the sequel is just a muddled and crappy action film, but when you consider how far this franchise that should never have been has fallen you will get a sense of what I am talking about.
Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today… If you haven’t seen The Arrival or Blade Runner 2049 you absolutely should. Each of Villeneuve’s films deals with a different set of themes in exceptional ways. Artificial intelligence, modern love, loss and time itself are beautifully dealt with in these films. I am a bit more cautious in recommending Sicario because it is horrifically violent. And I do mean horrific. Unlike the sequel, and most other films out today, the violence is not entertaining. It has real weight.
Sicario is about the border between Mexico and the United States and the savage brutality of the drug trade. It follows the journey of an idealistic federal agent, brilliantly portrayed by Emily Blunt as she becomes involved in the US government’s attempts to confront some Narcos.
The evil of drug related violence is conveyed unforgettably in The films opening frames, but what makes Blunts journey to the heart of darkness work so well is the way that the film reveals the evil on the other side of the border. Over the course of Sicario we are introduced to some of the monsters working on the side of the good guys. I hope you can hear how heavily in quotes I meant to put good guys there. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin depict two profoundly twisted forces of nature. They fall into action hero archetypes but the film uses that framing to condemn everything about US drug policy, and maybe I am getting carried away here, but I also think that the film says something profoundly true and sad about the human condition. If you’ve got the stomach for it you should absolutely see this film.
In Sicario Villeneuve uses all of the film makers arts to tell a profoundly dark story. It makes Netflix’s Narcos, a very competent show that tries to work with similar themes, look like a half assed episode of CSI by comparison. Everything about Sicario is genius. The color scheme, the pacing, the soundtrack, the painfully beautiful choices of shots work in service of its essential message. There are no good guys in the US and Mexico’s Narco wars.
And that’s what makes the sequel Sicario Day of the Soldado such absolute trash. Sicarios director Denis Villeneuve wisely passed on this project. The message is lost completely. The color scheme, a poor imitation of the pacing and straight rip offs of some of the shots survive, but Emily Blunt and the moral weight of the first film are nowhere to be found.
Some brainless executive thought he could build an action franchise around Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolins characters. The script incorporates some ridiculously exaggerated war on terror elements that manage to be incredibly cartoonish and deeply offensive at the same time. It’s Live action Looney Tunes basically, that plays directly into Donald Trumps vision of the world, and stops just short of endorsing his policies. The evil of these characters survive, at one point Josh Brolin murders an entire extended family to aid in an interrogation, but we are also supposed to be rooting for these guys somehow.
Everything about Sicario day of the soldado is an ungodly mess. Rather than a tale of man’s inhumanity to man, we have another US special forces power fantasy, wrapped up in the reanimated corpse of a much better film. It’s not much fun either. For the love of god, do not go see this film. Rent Sicario instead.
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