The decision to split director Steven Soderbergh's four-plus hour epic about the life of Che Guevara into two parts was probably a wise one. Although the central figure's life begs for an epic, it'd be a tough thing to take it in all at once. Splitting it in two gives us a chance to take in one part and mull it over and digest it before we are subjected to the second concluding one. It's peculiar that the second part of what was originally one film can feel so different and is ultimately a lot better.
Set in 1966, Che: Part Two continues the story of Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who, after having toppled the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista, decides to leave his wife and children to start another revolution in Bolivia (which we are first told of through an interview on TV where Fidel Castro is reading out a letter from Che). After assembling a small army of men, he makes his way into the heart of the Bolivian jungle to the point where he feels it right to begin his campaign. However the Bolivian government, unaware that Che is the leader of the rebels, start to move in on them while Che and his men are running out of supplies.
It's so strange that even though Che: Part Two is not a sequel (but rather a continuation of a story) it feels like one, very much like an entirely different movie as opposed to the second part of one long film. It not only looks different (sleeker, more focused, less gritty) but it feels different, too. The first film is plagued by fast editing, far too flippant cuts to dozens of different times and places, and a convoluted nature that renders it less than enjoyable, to say the least. However Soderbergh has somehow made the second part to this overall fascinating life story a lot more comprehensible, understandable, and thus more emotionally affecting.
What differentiates part two from the first one is how it lets the material breathe, giving it space to flesh out into a well-functioning, surprisingly enjoyable film that has far more depth and rounding of its characters (particularly Che) than the first one had. This time around most of the film takes place in just a few locations, mostly the jungle as we follow Che and his group of faithful soldiers making their way through the harsh terrain, trying to survive any dangers that they may come across, not least of which is lack of food and water. There is far less fancy editing and the number of events that we have to keep up with has thankfully decreased.
What we saw as clearly an outstanding performance by Benicio Del Toro in Part One is given even more chance to shine here. Since a lot more time is devoted to simply being with this man, finding out what's going on in his head and behind those eyes and the like, we then care a lot more about him this time around. What's he thinking? Does he truly believe in what he's fighting for? Does he find all that he and his men have to go through worth it to achieve his goals? Che: Part Two gives us a lot more time to find out at least some of that, even if it still isn't entirely enough.
One of the problems with this whole Che project, one that was present in Part One and is still present in Part Two, is there's just too much to this man's life to be told in one single film, even if it is almost four and half hours long in total. Trying to condense the part of his life where he was involved in revolutions and politics (which was most of his adult life — we never see his childhood) into one long film (or as most of the world will see it, into two parts) just isn't going to cut it. It is a lose/lose situation for Soderbergh – try and cram it all in and it comes off as a mess, but omit certain things and it feels unfinished.
A world of respect and admiration goes out to Mr Soderbergh for straying once again from mainstream fare (such as the Ocean's series) and making something as passionate and full of effort as Che. Even if what was intended doesn't really work in its entirety (certainly not as a lesson in who Che Guevara was and why he was so important), it's still great to see a director who could stick to mainstream films doing something different.
Two elements which stand out as highlights, one from each part of the overall story, are a couple of exciting, harrowing, nail-biting shoot-outs. Existing in each part as if they were from a completely different movie, they are made up of fast cuts (the only time throughout either of the two parts where they feel entirely warranted), realistic shooting back and forth, and all set to overlapping sound and an ominous musical score. I guess within the sea of extended Spanish-language dialogue, traveling almost endlessly through the jungle and all the political goings-on, there had to be at least a couple of genuinely thrilling scenes — and they are a very welcome addition indeed.
It would be ridiculous to say that Che: Part Two is a film that people should take in without having seen Part One first. Although the first part doesn't exactly do much to teach us about the titular figure, it's nonetheless essential if you're at all interested. Part Two is easily the more enjoyable, clearer, more watchable of the two but as a whole, this isn't an entirely satisfying tale of one of the 20th century's most notorious figures.