Since Denis Villeneuve’s Mexican cartel thriller Sicario was released in 2015, it has become revered as one of cinema’s most successful displays of both the moral grey area of the war on terrorism and the tension that can arise from such uncertainty.

Three years later, writer Taylor Sheridan has returned with a sequel that continues the story of Matt Graver’s guerrilla warfare against the drug cartels, and his unpredictable accomplice Alejandro’s personal journey for revenge.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado finds itself a new director in Stefano Sollima, but retains the same filthy, unsettling aesthetic of its predecessor; achingly long build-ups of tension, brutal violence and unflinching realism that question whether the ‘greater good’ is worth the cost.

The cinematography also maintains continuity from the first film, with a number of claustrophobic sequences from character’s perspectives inside Humvees and realistic night sequences using natural lighting to avoid the artificial moonlit effect that so many blockbusters rely on.

Sollima’s direction of the film’s action sequences is certainly impressive, implementing a number of striking long takes and interesting camera techniques to pack the punch that hits home when chaos ensues. Unfortunately, his handling of one-on-one character-driven scenes often falls into the standard of simply alternating shots of people talking. These scenes are also problematic due to the fact Soldado lacks an empathetic protagonist like Emily Blunt’s character, Kate, in the first film.

Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro is humanised throughout the story, yet the actions he takes are, at times, so extreme that it’s hard to forget that, at the end of the day, he’s an assassin.

While character development is lacking in places, Sheridan’s screenplay is otherwise right up to par with his past films. The twists, turns and strategies at play here all pave the way for an entertaining film while also feeling authentic and carefully planned out: there are very few plot holes to be found here.

When Sicario: Day of the Soldado was announced, it was questionable whether the original film really needed a sequel at all. But, ultimately, a strong screenplay and impressive direction make this return across the border surprisingly satisfying.

In cinemas: June 28, 2018
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner
Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Read our interview with Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro from the New Mexico set