Mission Impossible Fallout Review

Mission Impossible has been on a sustained run of excellence lately. I’m not a huge fan of the third movie, but Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation were both excellent. Fallout lives up to the series’ high standards. I don’t know that I like it quite as much as the previous two, but it is in the same conversation.

The movie starts with Hunt and crew trying and failing to recover some stolen plutonium. As Hunt readies to track it down again, the CIA steps in. This sets up the dynamic that runs through most of the movie. Hunt is given a CIA watchdog, Walker played by Henry Cavill. Walker is interesting; he’s all bravado and surety, but also more than a bit of a screw up. In one of the movies standout set pieces, of which there are a full handful, he HALO jumps into a thunderstorm, which results in he and Hunt nearly falling to their deaths.

I am not going to try to explain the plot, other than to say that the MI guys are after the plutonium, but someone on the good guys side is a double agent. Also, Hunt has to go undercover as the villainous buyer of the plutonium, but the price brings Rogue Nation’s villain back into the mix. Meanwhile, Ilsa Faust shows back up, but she is working toward a different goal than Hunt. It just makes the whole thing a mess of conflicted loyalties and objectives. While there isn’t much unsurety of who is on who’s side, it all works spectacularly.

Fallout brings back most of the crew that Hunt has built up over the last few movies. Ving Rhames is back as Luther and gets probably more to do than he has had for the last few movies. It is mostly talking in a radio of delivering exposition, but at least it’s something. Simon Pegg’s Benji, meanwhile, gets slightly scaled back, mostly because Cavill takes his role as Hunt’s sidekick for most of the movie. Still, he’s there and he’s great. Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust, and she is just as great as she was in Rogue Nation. Renner isn’t back, but Alec Baldwin gets to do a little more than he did last time. Really, the ancillary cast this series has built up is one of its greatest strengths.

Fallout moves from one amazing action set piece to another. There is that HALO jump, which is followed by a fight in nightclub bathroom. Then there is an extended motorcycle chase through Paris that is wonderful. It all ends with a helicopter dogfight and, no joke, a fist fight on the top of (and side of) a mountain. This is something that series has done well for the longest time, and Fallout is at least equally as amazing as any of the previous movies.

Despite my praise, the movie that comes to mind to compare this to is Spectre. That movie tried to suggest that the Bond series had been building to something since Craig took over and Spectre was trying to be the culmination of that. Except almost none of it worked; it was terrible. Fallout pulls a lot of the same tricks, tying together unrelated threads from three previous movies that maybe weren’t meant to be connected. Except Fallout actually makes it work. It doesn’t try to add stuff in retroactively, it builds it all forward. It actually plays out more like the latter Fast and Furious movies.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer. I hope Tom Cruise has another one of these in him.

****1/2

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Blindspotting

Blindspotting is powerful. It does an amazing job of balancing a high wire act of presenting a very real world but breaking from that at moments to add to the effect of the movie’s most powerful moments. It might not work for everyone, but I found it to be one of the most enthralling movies I’ve seen this year.

Blindspotting stars Daveed Diggs as Colling and Rafael Casal as Miles, two best friends living in Oakland. Collin was previously convicted of a felony and is nearing the end of his probation. He is trying to avoid any trouble. Meanwhile, Miles is a magnet for trouble, buying an unlicensed gun near the start of the movie and waving it around everywhere. They work together for a moving company. Collin’s former girlfriend works at the counter for that moving company. Miles lives with his girlfriend and their young son. With three days left on his probation, Collin witnesses a cop murder a man. The movie follows him for the next three days as he continues to try to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, despite Miles insistence on drawing as much trouble to himself as possible.

The movie deals deftly with so many issues. There are class issues, with the area where Collin and Miles grew up steadily gentrifying, with the lower class settings of their youth being replaced with more well to do facsimiles. There are now vegan burgers at the fast food place and expensive green juice at the convenience store. The two movers are always seen moving people out, never in. Often they are dealing with the remains of a family home with many affects left abandoned inside. These problems also touch on the movies racial musings. Collin fits in, visually, with the old Oakland because he is a big black guy. Miles works overtime to show that he is ‘street’ because as a white guy he is frequently mistaken for one of new hipsters in town. It is an advantage to him, since he can move in both worlds, but he considers it an insult. That also plays into how Collin ended up in jail; the idea that the world treats these two friends differently based on their race. Blindspotting plays it smart by mostly leaving the cop shooting in the background. It is always there and just like Collin the viewer is always aware of it, but he just has to go about his life regardless of what he saw. It builds, though, throughout until the movie gives viewers one of the most tense scenes I have ever seen.

Where the movie does some of its best work is in showing why the fairly mild Collin sticks with the erratic Miles. The bond between these two childhood friends is something that nearly everyone can relate to. Collin knows both that Miles is likely to get him into trouble and that despite his nonsense Miles is a good guy. Both things are true and while it seems pretty obvious that getting away from Miles is likely the best thing Collin could do, it is is easy to see why he won’t abandon a friend that never abandoned him.

Blindspotting is masterful. Wonderfully written and acted. Everyone should go see it.

*****

What I Watched July 2018

Movies

Hearts Beat Loud – read review here. ****

Uncle Drew – read review here. ***

Sicario Day of the Soldado read review here. **1/2

Won’t You Be My Neighbor – review coming soon. ****

The Brothers Bloom – This showed up on Netflix and as I am a fan of nearly everyone involved (Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Rian Johnson) I gave it a watch. It is really, really good. It is a fun little magical realist con man movie, a little like the Wes Anderson version of an Ocean’s movie. Two brothers scam a rich, bored woman, or maybe they scam each other. It is a delight. *****

Get Smart – It is a shame that this Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway movie never got a sequel; it is really damn entertaining. Carell is the perfect person to assume the Smart role, he mostly echoes Don Adams while adding a bit of his own touch and Anne Hathaway can do no wrong. When it is the two of them out on a mission the movie really shines. ****

Love & Friendship – I’ve reviewed it before, this movie is great. *****

Ant-Man and the Wasp – read review here. ****

Death of Stalin – The funniest, and maybe best, movie of the year about a very not funny subject. This movie details the plotting and machinations in attempting to succeed Stalin in the USSR. It plays it all as a farce, where people are likely to end up dead. I loved it. *****

Legacy of a White Tail Deer Hunter – It has Danny McBride and Josh Brolin, who make a TV show about Brolin’s hunting exploits. For the movie, he takes his teenage son with him, who he has lost touch with after a divorce, with Brolin often gone hunting. It kind of meanders through funny and not funny bits, before reaching something of a conclusion. Its fine. ***

Happy Anniversary – a decent little romantic drama about two people unsure if they are breaking up or taking the next step. It mostly works. ***1/2

Sorry to Bother You – read review here. *****

To Each, Her Own – a french comedy(?) about a bisexual woman who proposes to her longtime girlfriend and then cheats on her with a guy. The woman is Jewish, the guy, or at least his family, is anti-semitic. There are no laughs to be had. The ending is preposterous. *1/2

Anon – This is part Minority Report, part reflection on the surveillance state, and mostly a lot of explaining the rules to its near future setting. There is a good movie here somewhere, but it doesn’t really come through this turgid mystery. **

Murder on the Orient Express – I reviewed this last year, I still really like it. ****

Father of the Year – The latest Happy Madison production for Netflix is a weird movie. Because it is mostly a movie about kids who just finished college returning home for a few weeks before moving to New York to start new jobs, but their struggles are kind of sidelined by one’s father, a drunken lout played by David Spade, and his struggles against everything, including the father of another of the friends, played by Nat Faxon. It is never really funny, though the stuff with the kids had potential if it was allowed to go anywhere. *1/2

Godzilla City on the Edge of Battle – God, I hated this. I think the animation is ugly, just like the first movie. This isn’t really a movie about Godzilla, this is a movie about MechaGodzilla that is actually nanomachines. It is blandly uninteresting, and not paid off with interesting Godzilla fights. *

Kodachrome – A father and son reconnect on a road trip where the father wants to develop some film and the son is trying to sign a band for a record label. Good actors, Jason Sudekis, Elizabeth Olson, and Ed Harris, and a decent heart make it work. ***1/2

White Fang – A solid little animated adaptation of the Jack London novel. It has a sort of painterly quality to the animation that looks good despite its sort of blockiness. It also has a solid voice cast. The movie is fine, but it really isn’t anything more. ***

Three Identical Strangers – read review here. ****1/2

Skyscraper – read review here. **1/2

Tau – I think I am close to kicking this Netflix movie habit. This is a decent idea, of a woman trapped by a madman with only an AI for company, but mostly it played out like Ex Machina’s stupid cousin. *1/2

TV

GLOW S2 – GLOW Season 2 took just a little bit to get me back. It felt like this season started by unwinding character development from where last season ended. But it quickly got very good. This show has pretty quickly and efficiently established a lot of great characters, with its stars doing especially great work. It is about the perfect dramedy. It is easily one of Netlfix’s best shows.

Columbo S1 – It is shocking how good this series is right away. Basically, as soon as it is past the pilot it is everything it should be. Like the series below on this list, Columbo is just a mystery series. I never serializes the storytelling or makes character growth a thing. It is all on Peter Falk playing a particular character and solving a mystery against a completely new cast every time out. The interplay between Peter Falk and the guest star is the reason to watch this show. I intend to write more fully about this show later, but this might be the best TV show.

Midsomer Murders S1-4 – Not a lot to say here. This is a simple show with simple pleasures. It is fine. I am already reaching for things to say about it. It executes the mystery formula nearly perfectly, but does nothing more. I might watch all 20 series.

Fargo S3 – I don’t know how much of a write-up on this show I did when it first aired, but I watched with my brother the other weekend and was absolutely entranced. The first two season of this show are masterpieces, this season is a slight step down. The world it creates, with its malleable truth, is so perfect for the times we live in. It is frustrating, but real. The primary villain, Varga, is so gross and creepy, but for some reason the supposedly good people, like Emmett Stussy and Sy Feltz, are too busy with petty crap to even bother to look through his obvious facade. So instead, the criminals get to reign. I know when I first watched the show, I was convinced it ended one way, a somewhat optimistic ending, but this time I don’t have the faith for that. I know that Varga gets away.

Sorry to Bother You Review

Sorry to Bother You is one of the best movies of the year. It is an incisive and funny satire that never let’s the viewer get comfortable in its world. That world is close enough to the real world to be recognizable, but far enough away to be disorienting, creating something that feels like a mix of Jonathan Swift and Robocop. Sorry to Bother You is an insightful social commentary that keeps its message front and center while not getting in the way of its humor.

LaKeith Stanfield stars as Cassius “Cash” Green, a down on his luck man who wants to make a difference in the world. He shares his troubles with his performance artist girlfriend Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson. Cash starts his journey to greatness when he gets a job at RegalView, a telemarketing company. While he initially struggles, after a coworker, played by Danny Glover, teaches him to use his “white voice” Cash excels. He also joins a group of coworkers who are organizing a union. Soon, his newfound success at work creates a conflict with his friends and Cash is forced to choose between his ideals and his newfound success.

That is the surface level story of the movie, but there is more going on. So much more and it gets so much weirder. From the fake TV show “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me” to the advertised corporate slavery of WorryFree living, the movie starts in a weird place and just keeps amping up the weirdness from there until it takes a turn into out and out scifi in the last third of the movie.

The satire of Sorry to Bother You is that of a hammer; it is blunt rather than subtle. This is not a mistake, subtlety can be misinterpreted and Sorry to Bother You does not leave itself open to misinterpretation. The system that Cash must join into to survive is built to keep keep people like him in their place.  From how he succeeds to what his success actually gets him, the movie makes it clear that Cash can’t truly win in this system.

The material is helped by almost uniformly excellent performances from the cast. Stanfield is great in the movie, being something of an everyman than never really feels comfortable in his role. Thompson is as good as she always is. Danny Glover and Terry Crews each show up for a couple of memorable scenes, especially Glover. Armie Hammer is perfect as Steve Lift, the “visionary” CEO of WorryFree. One of the more interesting choices the movie makes is dubbing over the voices of its black actors when they speak in “white voice,” with Stanfield done over by David Cross. It is strange, but like in most aspects of this movie the strangeness works for it.

Writing this review has been difficult because I am reluctant to spoil any part of the experience. Sorry to Bother You is a movie that deserves to be experienced with fresh eyes. The ride is so much more exciting when you don’t know where it is going. But it is a ride that you should definitely take.

*****

Skyscraper Review

Skyscraper could and should be much better than it is. All of the elements for a fun summer action movie are here, but they just are combined haphazardly to make for something shockingly unenjoyable. There is a modicum of fun to be had with Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson remains the best action star on the planet and there are some well done scenes, but this movie is eminently skippable.

Skyscraper looks like straight up Die Hard rip off, but that is only part of what it is. It combines Die Hard with plenty of Jurassic Park. The basic idea is Die Hard, with terrorists in a skyscraper and one man having to work his way through them to save his family. But in Skyscraper, the building is a technological marvel. Viewers are supposed to awed by it like they were when they first saw dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The building owner is happy to show off his creation, which is brought low by sabotage and then disaster. So not only is The Rock working against the bad guys in the tower, he is also working against the building itself. It isn’t a bad idea, but it mostly just makes the movie feel super busy.

That plays into the movie’s biggest problem; all of its characters are just voids. It has only been a few days, but I can’t remember anyone’s name. Other than loving his family, The Rock’s character is a nonentity. His kids have personalities like “has asthma” and “is girl.” His wife is … also there. The villains get no more development, nor do the cops or the building owner. They all have maybe one trait or more likely just a goal, but there is nothing there to grasp onto.

The Rock does have a handicap, which is an interesting choice. He lost a leg in an explosion, so he wears a prosthetic. It adds a layer of vulnerability to the normally indestructible persona he exudes. In the end, the prosthetic is used as more of an asset than a handicap.

There are some solid action scenes, mostly dealing with The Rock hanging off the side of this very tall building. The less effective scenes happen in the building. Early on the movie sets up a completely unrelated to the building technological marvel whose use in the finale is so blatantly obvious that it is insulting. The building is topped by what is essentially a Star Trek holodeck. It feels like someone took the climax out of a different screenplay because there wasn’t a satisfying conclusion to this one.

Skyscraper is just not good. I can’t fault any of the actors, they are giving it their best. The Rock never appears to be giving less than 110 percent in any movie. But the material here is somehow both too thin and overstuffed. A lot happens in the movie, but since it doesn’t happen to characters someone could care about it feels completely pointless.

**1/2

Three Identical Strangers & Won’t You Be My Neighbor

While Moviepass continues to sputter and struggle in what I genuinely hope are not its death throws, I am feeling like celebrating the summer I have spent with the service. I signed up for MoviePass in March, and finally got my account active in May. Since then, I have seen nearly 20 movies using the service. Some are movies I would have seen regardless, like Ant-Man and Solo, but many other are movie that I would likely not have taken a chance on in theaters were it not for the fact that my ticket was already paid for. Chief among those movies are a pair of documentaries I saw and that I don’t feel like I could write full reviews for. So here are a pair of mini reviews for two excellent documentaries I saw this summer with MoviePass.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor tells the story of Fred Rogers, the man behind the children’s show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I don’t have a lot to say about it; the movie is inspiring and uplifting, but it is hard to explain without just recounting the movie completely. Won’t You Be My Neighbor details Rogers life and while it doesn’t shy away from struggles and missteps he made, it paints the portrait of a man who was as genuine and kind as he appeared on his TV show. Fred Rogers believed that he could use television as a force for good and to help educate children. He proved this with his popular and long running show that touched the lives of millions. This is just a wonderful story told in a very good movie.

****½

Three Identical Strangers

This documentary tells the true story of identical triplets separated at birth who found each other at college. The story of the brothers themselves is engrossing and somewhat tragic, the mystery behind their separation is equally intriguing and a little less satisfying. Also, some the stuff the movie somewhat posits about nature v nurture is questionable. The movie starts with one of the brothers going to college, only to be recognized by people he’s never met. Eventually, it is discovered that he looks just like another student. So he meets up with this other student and discovers that they share a birthday and were both adopted out of the adoption service. When the story appears in the paper, a third brother emerges. They then look into how the brothers got separated, which is itself quite a story, though one that the movie learns really hard on for no more of an answer than they found. The movie also looks at how the upbringing of the brothers may have affected their adult lives, and uncomfortably points fingers to explain some things. That is a dark mark on what is otherwise a fascinating movie.

****½

Uncle Drew

Uncle Drew is a movie that maybe shouldn’t exist. It mostly stars professional athletes and is based on a series of soda commercials. It makes it more than a little surprising that it is as entertaining as it is. Uncle Drew isn’t the best comedy to come out this year, but it is solid and largely entertaining.

Uncle Drew stars Lil Rey Howery as Dax, the manager of a streetball team gearing up for the Rucker Classic basketball tournament. Just before it is set to start, Dax’s rival Mookie (Nick Kroll) steals his team and his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish). The dejected Dax then encounters elderly streetball legend Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) and manages to convince him to play for him. One of Drew’s requirements for playing is that he gets to pick the rest of the team, which sets the two of them off on a roadtrip to put his old team back together.

That team includes power forward Preacher (Chris Webber), who is now a minister married to Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie) who does not want Preacher to play. They also pick up Lights (Reggie Miller), a legally blind outside shooting expert and Boots (Nate Robinson), the hyperactive point guard who is now confined to a wheelchair. Along with Boots comes his granddaughter Maya, who becomes Dax’s love interest. Lastly, they pick up Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), their center and now martial arts instructor.

It all mostly exists for former, and current, professional athletes to put on old age makeup and make a bunch of old people jokes. The other part mostly involves simplistic life lessons, like echoing Tag’s moral that “you don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing,” and noting that you miss all of the shots you don’t take. It is fine, not profound but doesn’t need to be and is not supposed to be. The last ingredient to formula is seeing these old players school a bunch of youngsters. Other than an early scene of Uncle Drew clowning a young guy near the start, the movie does its best to withhold this part until the end, but it is mostly worth the pay off.

There is just enough the make the characters in this movie actually characters to string things along between the basketball and jokes. There is Dax’s arrested development, with him being trapped in a moment when he got his shot blocked, by Mookie, as a kid and with his feeling alone since he grew up an orphan. There is also the conflict between Big Fella and Uncle Drew that broke up the team all those years ago. It isn’t anything surprising and its resolution is pat, but it is enough of a conflict to be a conflict.

As far as basketball goes, Uncle Drew largely delivers. That is the advantage of casting professional basketball players. The tournament plays out almost exactly how you’d expect it to, but there is enough here to be enjoyable. I don’t know why this movie exists, but I am not upset I used my moviepass to go see it.

***

Ant-Man and The Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect antidote to the world changing events of Avengers Infinity War. The stakes in that movie couldn’t be higher, while Ant-Man and the Wasp have easily the lowest stakes of any superhero movie to date. It brings back all the characters from the first movie for some very personal adventures.

Ant-Man deals a lot with the fallout from Scott’s involvement in Captain America Civil War. Unlike the rest of this team, Scott took a plea deal and ended up on house arrest for a couple years. Incidentally, his involvement also put his friends, Hope Van Dyne and Hank Pym, on the run from the government as well. As the movie starts, he is days away from getting his freedom, but he also starts having dreams of Janet Van Dyne, who was lost in the Quantum Realm years before. This leads to reconnecting with his erstwhile allies and sneaking out on his sentence.

That sets the stakes for this movie. Scott has to get back to his house before he is caught violating his house arrest. Hank and Hope, meanwhile, are trying to put together a rescue mission for Janet. Then there are the villains. The first is Sonny Burch who is trying to steal Hank’s tech with the vague idea of selling it on the black market. Hank’s tech isn’t weapons, though I’m sure it could be weaponized, and Burch doesn’t have any bigger evil scheme than steal Hank’s stuff and sell it to someone else. Then there is Ghost, who needs Hank’s tech to solve her problem of turning intangible. Again, she has no great villainous plot; her goal is just as personal and as sympathetic as the good guys’.

Keeping it low stakes works for Ant-Man. It gives a lot of time for banter between Scott and his friends, a group of ex-cons running a security business, as well as between Scott and Hope and Hank. This works really well mostly because Paul Rudd, who plays Scott, is delightful. The same is true of Michael Pena. Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Douglas are all also good, though none of them really get enough to do. And no movie has enough Michelle Pfeiffer. The action is largely carried by Evangeline Lilly as Hope. Scott does his part, but Hope does the majority of the fighting and is great in it. The size changing powers are visually interesting and lead to a lot of interesting fight choreography. Again, that is a plus for keeping the stakes low, with it mostly being a lot of hand to hand fighting between one or two people who can change size and a handful of thugs who can’t or with one person who can phase through solid matter.

The villain is another thing this does well. Ghost’s methods are criminal, but she is mostly just opposed to our heroes more than evil. It is easy to understand why she is getting the help that she is from certain characters. All she wants is to have her problem fixed, and she needs Hank’s tech to do it. The conflict arises because her need conflicts with the need of Hank and Hope to get Janet back. It is understandable, logical and compelling.

Where is falters, as much as it does, is that it doesn’t have a whole lot that was not already in the first movie. It re-configures some things and gives us a character in action that we didn’t get to see before, but it is mostly just more of what we’ve already seen. Still, it is well executed and mostly very funny, so it is hard to hold its lack of originality against it.

I doubt this movie will be remembered as among he cream of the Marvel crop, but Ant-Man and The Wasp seems a more compelling movie to return to than the epic but exhausting Infinity War or many of the other larger than life adventures.

****1/2

Hearts Beat Loud

Hearts Beat Loud is a low key, charming little movie about a father and daughter. It doesn’t really do anything new or unexpected, but it is good hearted and enjoyable that it is easy to like anyway.

Hearts Beat Loud is a movie about the inevitability of change. Change isn’t innately good or bad, it merely is. Sam (Kiersey Clemmons) is graduating from high school and heading to college across the country. Her father Frank (Nick Offerman) is having a hard time dealing with it. Added on to this is that Frank’s record store is going out of business. The two of them are a musical family and after an evening of playing together, Frank becomes determined that the two of them will start a band. This is an enticing prospect for Frank, who used to be in a band with Sam’s mother before their daughter was born.

There is sadness is Frank’s obviously futile quest. The viewer knows that the worst possible outcome here is that Sam puts off her medical school dreams to start a band with her Dad, but as the movie seems determined to strip everything he has away from him you can’t help but sympathize with Frank a little bit. A big part of their relationship is obviously their musical connection and him wanting to keep them together with it is understandable, but also kind of selfish. Even Frank appears to know that it is a bad idea, although it is one that lets him keep his daughter around.

Sam appears to know this and for the most part shows little interest in giving up school to be in a band. But she also writes songs, because she is a musician. She also has to deal with moving across the country and giving up a burgeoning romance. There are tons of reasons for her to stay, but it is obvious that staying would be a limiting move for her.

In a parallel to losing his relationship with his daughter, Frank’s record shop is also going out of business. Like with the band business, Frank is given an opportunity to keep the record shop going, only it will mean changing it from what he knew. He has to decide if it is worth keeping what he had at the risk of changing it utterly, or just letting it go and grow to be something else.

A movie can’t put the emphasis that Hearts Beat Loud does on music and not make the music worth listening to. Fortunately, Hearts Beat Loud has some really great tunes and the significant time it spends letting its characters just play music is not wasted space.

Hearts Beat Loud is undeniably slight. It is a simple and low key affair buoyed largely by its charming cast, which in addition to Clemmons and Offerman includes Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Ted Danson and Sasha Lane, and its engaging sincerity. A fun, touching trifle.

****

Sicario Day of the Soldado

The first Sicario was a look at the drug war that put the viewer in the shoes of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Macer as she was exposed to the moral rot that it involved. It invited the viewer to join in her alienation as the tactics of the good guys became essentially indistinguishable from the bad guys. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, still wants to have that moral complexity, but other than a few echoes of the original it manages none of it. The fact that it works as well as it does rests entirely on the shoulders of Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, who is having quite a year.

Sicario Day of the Soldado starts with some histrionics about imagined border security fears, with Muslim suicide bombers sneaking through the Mexican border to attack American grocery stores. It is a disgusting bum note that the movie never quite manages to recover from. It does give an unneeded in to introduce Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a CIA operative who is busy torturing someone suspected of facilitating the suicide bombers. The US government has decided to treat the Mexican Cartels like terrorist organizations and wants Graver to bring his expertise to disrupting the cartels. He starts a plan to kidnap the daughter of the head of a cartel and frame another cartel for it. He brings along with him Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro), a mexican hitman he worked with in the past. Things go awry, as these things do, and Alejandro and Matt end up on opposite sides of the border and the conflict. Weaved inelegantly through the thriller is a plot line about a kid who gets caught up with the gangs starting by helping people cross the border for some cash.

Without Blunt’s character, the movie has no heart. The first half shows only the moral emptiness, with nothing to compare it against and making no real comment about it; it merely shows the blackness. About midway through, it turns into something of a straight up Western, and the two amoral operative suddenly develop at least the inklings of a conscious. It works for Del Toro’s Gillick, because it fits with his motivation. For Graver, it comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. The plot with the kid is as bleak as it could possibly be, but the movie doesn’t let the viewer inside of his thoughts to any degree at all, making it hard to tell if this is a drifting or just how he always was.

The end is where the movie really falls apart. It has no themes to tie together and no interest in delivering some kind of exciting final act, so it just sort of peters out with unsatisfying conclusions to its various plots. Some of them barely explained. Were I feeling generous, I might say the movie is leaving the viewer unfulfilled so they can chew on the movie’s meaning, but the movie doesn’t manage to have much of meaning, leaving the viewer simply underwhelmed.

Ignoring the movie’s either disgusting or muddled politics, as an action thriller it is fairly well staged. Its few actions scenes are tense and exciting. Brolin and Del Toro both deliver very good performances that make it easy to forget how unnecessary this sequel is.

**