The only reason this movie got made in the first place has to do with what worked about the first movie. Sicario was medium in its storytelling but was heightened by the direction and Benicio Del Toro's acting. Since the director wouldn't be coming back for the sequel, that left Benicio as the main reason to make the movie. The movie comes close to giving viewers what they wanted but doesn't have the focus to do so. Simply put, not only is Sicario: Day of the Soldado holding back but it's not great.
The first thing that makes this movie inferior to the first has to do with editing. There is a considerable difference to how the ending and opening differ from the rest of the movie. While the movie itself is ok, the opening has too many insert shots that seem meaningless. There are cuts to random screens and landscapes that linger too long that serve no purpose. The ending suffers from weird music editing, blaring to scenes that have no consequence and repeating the same song. It was jarring to transition from the rest of the movie to these bookends.
It was also obvious that the new director tried to keep the style of the first movie with beautiful scene composition and framing. This never happens. There are some shots that do look good but the scenes they are in are inconsequential. When there is a scene that is supposed to affect the audience in some way, the direction is generic and doesn't stand out. The first movie is known for a scene where a convoy goes through a Mexican town. That scene was always a high point whenever someone talked about the movie. There is nothing even close to the quality of that sequence in this movie.
But maybe you just want to see Benicio be a badass. That doesn't happen. In a movie where a skilled killer is told that they have no restrictions to cause chaos, he doesn't do much. The movie likes to take its time and acts like a slow burn. The only problem with this is that nothing ever happens. There is no big finale, no payoff for making the audience wait. The movie tells you its about one thing then changes its mind and you get Logan lite. This wouldn't be a problem if it delivered but IT NEVER DOES.
I think that because both movies have the same screenwriter, it's easy to notice when the movie wants to do something. Whether that is to make the audience tense, clam, whatever it might be. But the direction gets in the way of creating those feelings. It also makes sense that there was never supposed to be a sequel for this movie. It does have some cool scenes and some cool ideas, but it lacked the focus to make it all come together. You could watch this on your TV in the middle of the week, no need to go to the theater.