Josh Brolin’s federal agent re-teams with Benicio del Toro’s mercurial assassin in Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Just don’t call it a sequel.

Violence on the US-Mexico border has escalated, as the cartels begin trafficking terrorists across the border. A drug lord’s daughter is kidnapped and Josh Brolin’s federal agent must re-team with Benicio Del Toro’s shadowy fixer in a day of bloodshed and mayhem.

Sicario on steroids,” is how this sequel is already being characterised.

Just don’t call it a sequel.

Denis Villeneuve directed 2015’s Sicario, featuring Emily Blunt, to great acclaim, from an original script by Taylor Sheridan and with Roger Deakins as director of photography.

But apart from del Toro, Brolin and Jeffrey Donovan’s returning characters, Sicario: Day of the Soldado bears little resemblance to the original, with Italian director Stefano Sollima at the helm and Dariusz Wolski as DOP.

When STACK catches up with Brolin on Soldado’s set, its a bitterly cold day on a windswept plain outside Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Warming up in Brolin’s trailer, he admits how he never expected the critically-acclaimed Sicario to turn out so well, describing the experience as “frustrating; like dealing with abstract art”.

“I didn’t think Sicario was going to be very good but when I saw it I was completely blown away. That never happens, by the way, ever. I’ve learned that Denis is much smarter than he lets on.”

But critics adored the film, leading quickly to financing for a second.

Not that Brolin feels “sequel” is the correct word for the big action picture that is Day of the Soldado, “Its not a copycat, nor is it a sequel – it’s more of a follow-up,” says the Avengers baddie, who straddles mainstream and arthouse movies, earning an Oscar nod for Milk in 2008.

“I think a sequel is when you’re connecting to where the other one left off, whereas this is its own episode,” he says, discussing the shift in Sicario’s emphasis on drug trade to Soldado’s focus on human trafficking and terrorism.

In reprising his role as federal agent Matt Graver, Brolin is the solider, Spanish translation, “soldado”, of the title while Del Toro remains the mysterious go-between, Alejandro.

Drawn to tough-guy roles be it soldiers, firefighters or even Thanos, Brolin relishes the physicality and training. “After a while it just becomes instinctive,” he says.

Joining us after shooting a scene in a Humvee, which sees the windshield repeatedly being shot up, Jeffrey Donovan couldn’t help but flinch. “Even though they’re not real bullets; they’re marbles shot from a pneumatic gun and the windscreen is very protective. It felt very real and you want the reaction to look genuine,” he says.

Catching up with del Toro, he admits he’s missing Blunt. “As an actor, of course, but her personality, she just makes everybody laugh.”

Describing Soldado as more “ambitious“, he points to the fact that much of the drama is filmed outside with few studio scenes.

“It’s a bigger film in which we follow three different stories. The battles are bigger and grittier, too.

“It almost feels like a western,” he says, referencing nocturnal helicopter scenes over Mexico City and fraught border crossing sequences with more than 150 people.

From Traffic to Savages and Escobar, playing the morally ambiguous character is all in a day’s work for del Toro, as demonstrated by his final scenes with Blunt in Sicario.

“I’ve been doing these film noirs with an edge of ambiguity for some time now. Drug war films. Am I being typecast? Well so be it. I think that once you learn about these kind of worlds, you keep learning about it and you keep improving your realism.”

With his green eyes and slow intoxicating voice, del Toro has always brought an enthralling edge to characters, even when they’re behaving very badly, which his Alejandro continues to do in Soldado.

“I don’t know if I like him but I do understand him, which is what’s important as an actor,” he argues.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is in cinemas on June 28