We're back in South America and the American agencies are engaging those who 'do the dirty work' with no traces, no comebacks, in order to keep the American public safer from terrorism from the other side of the world - in this case, routing those who are willing via the African coast on boats, into Mexico and up. Our hero is given pretty much a James Bond style free ticket to do what he needs to do in order to achieve the goals. A complex plan is put into action, teaming up Alejandro with Matt, played by Josh Brolin again, though taking less of a lead than he did in the last outing. He did get involved in some of the action, but he played more of a 'manager' role than Del Toro, our all-action hero!
The complex plan included trying to create a war between rival Cartels in Mexico in order to put a spoke in the human trafficking chain and stop people from Africa being swept across the Mexico/American border and thus terrorise Americans. This plan involved the kidnapping of one of the top criminals' daughters, Isabel, played very well indeed by the young Isabela Moner. She didn't have a huge amount of lines to learn but coming from the cocky schoolgirl who knew nobody could touch her because of her dad, to expressing new anxiety, fear and disbelief at the situation in which she found herself, was a different challenge. I think she did very well and will look forward to seeing her career develop.
Back to the plot and of course, it all goes wrong, Alejandro and Isabel get separated from the task force and have to make it across hostile territory and back to base, posing as not quite who they are, to get across the border like the other migrants. Throw into the mix a young American lad who desperately wants to join his cousin across the border and make a fortune as a part of the Cartel action and we have another angle - and sub-plot about recruitment, ambition and the Mexico/US border. There's some violence and blood as you'd expect, but nothing really gory reflecting maybe what we read about how people in power can treat other humans in situations like this. There's greater impact - and sympathy from the viewer - about the sad trafficking trade and how that dehumanises people.
It's a nicely paced and constructed story, again from the pen of actor/writer/director/producer Taylor Sheridan, keeping the action and adventure flowing whilst not alienating the audience with the twists, turns, politics and complex plot-line - though you need to be on your toes! The (different from the first film) director Stefano Sollima keeps things tight, the Mexican landscape often makes interesting visuals a given, but more work has gone into some of the action sequences - like the dramatic shots of helicopters in action. There's plenty of dark interior scenes, which are handled well and all elements come together to keep tension high and the audience on the edge of their seats when they should be.
A most enjoyable film which I highly recommend. The hooks to the first film are few, so you don't really need to have seen it. The ones present are mostly about Alejandro's background, family and previous revenge - but it's not critical to the plot of this film. The missing Emily Blunt from the first film is in-part offset by the new teenager girl incoming, giving proceedings a leading female, though with an obviously different emphasis. How much of it is realistic, how things actually happen or bent truth, to some degree, for most people watching, won't really matter. Enjoy the romp!