HEAT VISION

Could 'Sicario' Become a 'Mission: Impossible'-Style Series for the Crime Genre?

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has always envisioned an anthology series, and there's reason to believe it could take a page from Tom Cruise's action-spy franchise.
From left: Emily Blunt in 'Sicario', Tom Cruise 'Mission: Impossible — Fallout' and Benicio del Toro in 'Sicario: Day of the Soldado'   |   Photofest; Richard Forman; Photofest
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has always envisioned an anthology series, and there's reason to believe it could take a page from Tom Cruise's action-spy franchise.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the follow-up to 2015's Sicario, arrived weeks before Tom Cruise's latest Mission: Impossible installment. Though the two series are different genres and of markedly different scopes, perhaps they have more in common than it seems.

The Mission films, with the exception of its forthcoming sixth chapter, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, have been stand-alone stories that address a unique mission with little to no serialization from the franchise's previous installments. Each film features Cruise's Ethan Hunt alongside a recurring cast of characters as well as a different director (until Rogue Nation filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie's return via Fallout). The existing five films look and feel distinct, despite having the same engine underneath. Day of the Soldado, which is also a stand-alone movie with four recurring Sicario characters and its own unique mission, raises the question: Could Sicario be to crime drama what Mission: Impossible is to the action spy genre?

It's important to point out that Sicario screenwriter and mastermind Taylor Sheridan has always had plans on making an anthology trilogy: three stand-alone movies that don't function as direct sequels. This is why Sheridan's original title for Sicario: Day of the Soldado was simply Soldado. However, you can't blame the decisionmakers at Sony putting the film in the best position to succeed, especially if we want more of these movies.

Regardless of the title, Soldado achieves what Sheridan intended, as it's simply another mission for Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) with virtually no references to the events of Sicario. In Soldado, Brolin's Graver vaguely remarks, "No rules this time," which could allude to the rule they had to follow in Sicario: recruit a domestic agent (Emily Blunt's Kate Macer) since the CIA couldn't operate inside U.S. borders. However, when we meet these arrogant and mysterious characters in Sicario, it's clearly not the first mission where they've had to bend the rules. So, Graver could be referring to the Macer mission or a dozen others. Like its predecessor, Soldado bases its fictionalized story around the lesser-known details of real-world events, which separates it from most film series and franchises.

Aside from the co-leads (del Toro and Brolin), there are two returning Sicario characters: Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan) and Rafael (Raoul Max Trujillo). Oddly enough, Donovan's Forsing functions similarly to Simon Pegg's Benji Dunn, who joined the M:I franchise in its third entry. Both characters provide some much-needed levity during the uniquely dangerous missions of each series. Additionally, because of the stand-alone nature of the Sicario series, Blunt's Macer is expected to return to the franchise's potential third chapter, a possibility that seems all the more likely after Soldado overperformed at the box office this weekend with $19 million. (Sicario opened to $12 million in 2015 despite mass acclaim from critics and audiences including a 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering that many critics and film buffs regard Sicario as a masterpiece, Soldado's 63 percent Rotten Tomatoes score is a relative achievement compared to most successors with a mighty tough act to follow.)

Similar to Blunt's potential return, Michelle Monaghan (Julia Meade-Hunt) is returning to Mission: Impossible — Fallout after a brief cameo in 2011's Ghost Protocol and major role in 2006's Mission: Impossible III.

Soldado proves, a la Mission, that the Sicario films could be an endless series of anthology films where familiar anti-heroes are tasked with doing the world's dirty work by any means necessary. Soldado also visited three different countries besides Mexico and the U.S., so the series has plenty of other places it can go, including Colombia, where Alejandro resides. While Soldado offers audiences a few more morsels of information about Alejandro's family, his existing backstory is the only one we really need to justify future missions. We still know next to nothing about Brolin's Graver and Donovan's Forsing, and that's quite all right because we learn enough about them through their choices made during missions. In Sicario, we learned a little bit about Macer and how she was divorced with no kids, but Graver only wanted to know that because he was seeking the perfect pawn for his covert mission. The film's Sonora cartel also found a way to use this information as part of the plot.

Comparatively, 1996's Mission: Impossible barely informed us of Ethan Hunt's backstory; it merely introduced us to a fully formed MIF agent named Ethan Hunt who's been the point man to IMF head Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) for some time. Much like Macer, only a few details of Hunt's past were introduced, such as the Hunt family farm, but it was only volunteered to serve a plotline that involved Ethan being set up as a mole.

As beloved as the Mission: Impossible franchise is, audiences usually know what they're signing up for with each installment: an action spy film where Hunt/Cruise perform death-defying stunts en route to saving the world from rogue IMF agents, terrorists or rival syndicates. Once again, Fallout appears to be the exception to this tried-and-true formula as Hunt's winning streak seems poised to end. ScreenCrush's Matt Singer recently pointed out that the Mission films didn't establish this identity until John Woo's Mission: Impossible II provided a glimpse at the future. The opening rock climbing scene at Dead Horse Point eventually became the franchise's foundation as Cruise performed what would be the first of many death-defying stunts via a practical location or vehicle, aircraft, etc. The first and third films certainly had some technically impressive stunts by Cruise, but when you look behind the curtain, they mostly relied on green screen as well as cable work on a soundstage. It wasn't until Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol where everything clicked into place thanks to Cruise scaling Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Since then, Christopher McQuarrie's collaboration with Cruise on Rogue Nation and Fallout has led to the series' most spectacular practical stunts and set pieces. When it comes to pure, practical action, no other franchise can top what Cruise and his collaborators have achieved since 2011.

With Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and composer Johann Johannsson established the identity for this potential anthology series from the start. They built an original sandbox that was fully formed, allowing Soldado's filmmakers, Stefano Sollima and DP Dariusz Wolski, to jump right in and add their own signature to it. This series of films already knows what it is, and doesn't need three films to figure it out. Villeneuve, much like a television pilot director, established a look and feel with Deakins that can serve as the creative touchstone for all future films. Nonetheless, Sollima still found a way to add his own fingerprint to a world that didn't need much adjusting. That's why Sollima has insisted that a new director follow up his film in order to ensure that each entry is truly a stand-alone piece as Sheridan intended. After Sheridan's recent directorial efforts via Wind River and Yellowstone, perhaps he'll want to take a crack at writing and directing the conclusion of his anthology trilogy.

When it comes to the crime drama genre in the 21st century, there are far more misses than hits. In an era currently dominated by franchises and universes, there are basically no film series or franchises that are rooted in crime drama. The John Wick film franchise, which is also produced by Sicario producers Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee, has evolved into a trilogy, but it's a serialized story with a beginning, middle and end. Wick is also a stylized depiction of a fantasy underworld within the real world. This is why the Sicario series can and should become the cinematic boss of crime drama, a la Mission: Impossible and action spy, because it's grounded in real-world headlines where the spotlight is put on the fine print that is underreported on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border war. Sheridan depicts Americans doing monstrous, criminal acts in order to curtail the monstrous, criminal acts of drug cartels. The line between protagonist and antagonist is as blurred as ever in these films. As a result, Sicario and Soldado wisely take time to show the perspective of the innocent people that are used as pawns or bait on both sides. Through the eyes of innocents, we recognize how everyone involved in this war is guilty to some degree — including the Americans.

Since 2008, the best crime drama has been found on television via Breaking Bad, Narcos, True Detective and Better Call Saul. In 2015, Sicario reminded us that crime drama still has a place on the big screen, even though Hollywood is making less of it with each passing year. Take genre out of the equation, a series of original films that isn't designed for mass consumption is something moviegoers need more of in this franchise-dominant era, especially when they include prominent actors that are also involved in the billion-dollar sandboxes that everyone can enjoy.

When you survey the aforementioned franchise landscape, you'll find mostly four-quadrant films that are based around pre-existing properties and designed for mass appeal. As much as audiences enjoy those films, there is still a need for an original franchise that isn't afraid to tackle tough subject matters while changing our outlook on the world as well as our own patriotism. Because the Sicario movies are set around real-life events, past and present, an element of horror is ever-present, leaving you to question whether the end truly justifies the means. So, this isn't just a matter of counter-programming; it's a matter of counter-franchising.

Audiences know that Ethan Hunt is going to impose his will to stop the villain. They know the Avengers are inevitably going to save the world. They also know the Rebellion will find a way to overcome the odds. In the Sicario series, a film can close on a concluding look between characters that changes your entire perception of a character you thought you knew. This type of storytelling deserves its place in this franchise and universe-led era.

Sicario and Soldado producer Thad Luckinbilll joked to The Hollywood Reporter at the Day of the Soldado premiere: "Who knows what Taylor has up there? He may have 30 Sicario movies he's thinking about."

Let's hope so.

  • Brian Davids
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