Over the historical span of the film industry, we’ve seen certain film genre trends come and go. For instance, the mid-20th century saw the prevalence of the western. The late-20th century saw the proliferation of macho-action films like Die Hard, Rambo, and Predator. Today in the early-21st century, superhero films and raunchy R-rated comedies dominate their respective genres. And almost all of these industry trends can be traced back to one or two early films that opened the existential floodgates for films of a similar make. The superhero mania as it exists today, which has taken over a substantial portion of the action/adventure and Sci-Fi genres, owes itself to 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man. The modern mainstream R-rated comedy continues to be made off of the initial success of the early American Pie films. By the initial looks of 2018’s upcoming sequel to the critically-acclaimed film Sicario, the unique sequel is positioned to do for the action genre what American Pie did for the comedy genre.
The trailer for the sequel to 2015’s drug war epic Sicario released not too long ago and with it a rise in collective interest by fans and non-fans alike. The unexpected sequel to the 2016 Oscar nominee has flown, for the most part, under the radar for the past 2 years when it was first announced. At the time, the studio revealed that the film would abandon Emily Blunt’s protagonist from the first film, and instead follow Benicio Del Toro’s show stealing titular character as he continues to battle the Mexican cartels under the guise of Josh Brolin’s task force.
Sequels to quality films like Sicario are virtually unheard of for the very reason that typically, these films do not have mass appeal from a financial standpoint. That is, films like Sicario are made purely for the sake of the art, with no expectation of significant returns. However, considering the first Sicario film made roughly 3 times it’s $30 million budget, one could argue that a sequel is financially feasible. But all the capitalistic inspection aside, the contemplative and thematically esoteric nature of the narrative told in the first film does not seemingly lend itself to a sequel (franchise?). By the looks of the first trailer for Sicario 2, they may have pulled it off, and then some. And that “some” could be very interesting.
Firstly, we have to acknowledge that judging a film by its trailer should always be a dubious effort. We’ve all seen good trailers for bad movies and vice versa. But we’ve also seen good trailers for good movies, and the trailer for Sicario 2 is quite good. Now it’s perfectly possible that come June 29th, the films ends up being terrible; however, I’m more inclined to believe the film will be good due to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water and Wind River writer) returning to pen the script. But at the same time, director Denis Villeneuve is not directing the sequel, so there is no way to know 100% at this point if the film will click with critics and audiences like the first one did.
With that being said, the Sicario 2 trailer is very fascinating. It sustains the same Oscar-nominated cinematography from the first, and with it the same brooding, contemplative tone and thematic personality that made the first one so good. Even more surprisingly, the film looks to be marketed as more of an action film instead of the crime thriller the first one was, if not only by nature of its identity as a sequel. The visceral violence of the first film has seemingly been expanded to embody a more confident genre category. However, when comparing the trailers of the first film and the new sequel, you will see that the former also implied a film with abundant action, which is not what Sicario necessarily ended up being. It’s very likely that Sicario 2 will not actually end up being an “action” movie per se and will instead follow thematic suit after the first film, maintaining a balance between jarring violence and intrigue. Regardless, the very existence of a major studio produced sequel to what was technically a violent “art” film is worth paying attention to because if it connects with audiences in way that’s reflected in the box office, we could be living in a new era of action film, or more precisely, a new niche within the action genre defined not by gratuitous violence, sex, and other shallow content, but by rich, contemplative narrative and purposeful violence.
To inject the typically oblivious action genre with the moral ambiguity and complexity commonly reserved for art house or “Oscar bait” films is not only a fascinating prospect, but a cultural necessity, especially in the current state of the world. As much as people would like to deny it, every film no matter the genre have an impact on how we, the audience perceive ourselves, each other, and the world around us. At a time when collective empathy, self-awareness, and accountability is in dangerously short supply and our supposed leaders have no intention of addressing such shortcomings, it is up to the arts to foster progressive, sustainable ideas that audiences can digest, wrestle with, and hopefully incorporate into their respective worldviews. As we see with movies like Get Out, The Shape of Water, and mother!, the mere act of subverting a film’s native genre effectively pulls audiences out of their established expectations and forces them to relearn what they thought they once knew, in the case of these films, about the horror genre or the monster-movie genre. Should Sicario 2 prove accessible and favorable with moviegoers while also maintaining the same level of quality and richness as the first one, there is a good possibility that the major movie studios will seriously start reconsidering the previously accepted content ratio of art to fluff for action movies going forward.
Or the film will come and go, and business proceeds as usual.