Sicario: Day of the Soldado may be the most unexpected sequel of this or any other year — some might even argue unnecessary.

No one expected that the first Sicario from 2015, a gripping tale of a Latin hitman, would find a significant enough audience, along with its notable critical success.

Taylor Sheridan, who continues to ascend the ranks of the film industry’s creative side, wrote this worthy effort and its predecessor, and he continues to show his stories remain a cut above the rote. The primary reason: vivid, complicated characters.

Gone is Emily Blunt’s idealistic FBI agent. This time, Sheridan gives us a compelling rendering of Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a sharp-witted, highly skilled hitman, who has been beaten up emotionally by the murder of his family from a hit ordered by the head of a Mexican drug cartel. While the question in the first film remained whether Alejandro possessed a shred of humanity, Day of the Soldado continues to grapple with it.

When Alejandro is hired by old buddy Matt Graver (Oscar nominee Josh Brolin) to help shake up that cartel, Alejandro finds himself in a difficult position. The secretary of defense enlists Graver’s expertise to start a war between the Mexican cartels that would ultimately allow the United States to declare them a threat to national security.

The best way to do that? In Graver’s mind it’s to frame the leaders of one cartel for kidnapping the daughter of the head of another. No problem, right?

That’s where complications arise. The obnoxious pre-teen they nab, Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), just happens to be the daughter of the man responsible for having Alejandro’s family killed.

The joy in watching this particular situation comes from watching Del Toro take his character through the host of emotions with which he has to contend in this intricate conundrum. Things get particularly hairy when circumstances surrounding the mission go awry and he and Isabel find themselves on the lam from Graver.

Watching Moner and Del Toro develop a de facto father-daughter relationship because of their plight is just the best scenario in a movie filled with them. Moner, despite her youth, proves every bit Del Toro’s equal on screen, delivering a performance peppered with anger and irresistible for its ability to make the audience feel empathy for her.

Director Stefano Sollima wisely leans on those two to propel the film forward, but he imbues Sicario with a gritty style. He creates a ponderous pace, allowing the audience to linger in a particular moment and absorb it, while never overstaying a welcome. It possesses the grittiness of the original, but much more heart.

In that respect, Sicario: Day of the Soldado offers a different perspective than its predecessor, certainly coming close to its appeal.

George M. Thomas dabbles in movies and television for the Beacon Journal. Reach him at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @GeorgeThomasABJ.