WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Sicario: Day of the Soldado, in theaters now.
Denis Villeneuve's Sicario had among the most rousing finales the genre has seen as it detailed the crusade of hitman Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) against the Mexican drug cartels. Partnered with the U.S. government and guided by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), he exacted revenge against the crime lord who killed his loved ones by executing Fausto Alarcón and his entire family.
It was a harsh, but ultimately satisfying, ending, as the audience came to understand the pain Alejandro carried with him throughout the 2015 film. But it also set a high bar for Italian director Stefano Sollima, who three years later, paints another bloody for mission Alejandro and Matt in Sicario: Day of the Soldado, in which their new mission is to turn rival cartels against each other.
In a game of cat and mouse, Alejandro and a daughter of one of the gang's leaders, Isabela (Isabela Moner), struggle to return to Mexico after they've been abandoned by U.S. allies that have used them them as pawns. This leads to yet another thoroughly gripping final act that alters Alejandro's path, as he expands his vision for avenging his family.
With the drug lords now considered terrorists by the U.S. government, Alejandro and Matt kidnap Isabela to trick her family, the Reyes empire, into a feud with the Matamoros. When the plan succeeds, the duo takes Isabela back to Mexico to secretly release her, but the operation goes awry and Matt is forced to leave them. As Isabela and the hitman trek back to the United States, realizing Mexico is far too dangerous on foot, they're taken hostage by smugglers who want to ransom the girl back to her father. As a result, in the finale, up-and-coming gangbanger Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) shoots Alejandro in the head, seemingly killing him.
Matt disobeys his government's orders, however, and comes back for them, only to observe Alejandro's death from his helicopter. Infuriated, he executes the smugglers and takes Isabela back to America, and into witness protection. It's an ill-advised move, as his entire operation has seen not just criminals, but dozens of Mexican cops (albeit corrupt ones) killed, which has escalated into a political crisis. Sollima leaves the fate of everyone vague, although there are hints that Matt expects reprisal from his superiors, and Isabela may be used as a bargaining chip with her dad.
The story surprisingly doesn't end there, as it turns out Alejandro survived the gunshot, which left a gaping hole in his cheek. He barely escapes the crime scene and fends off a few straggling attackers, now realizing he's truly alone and without backup.
Now effectively a ghost, Alejandro changes the game entirely in the final scene, which occurs a year later. He finds Miguel, who had earlier abandoned the smugglers and thus escaped Matt's slaughter. But instead of assassinating him, Alejandro asks Miguel if he wants to be a hitman, and when he says yes, the Sicario decides he'll train him for the life.
It's a most shocking twist because we know Alejandro has no problem killing youngsters, as evidenced by the fates of Fausto's two sons in the first movie. But in Soldado, he has a different outlook, with his relationship with Isabela (somewhat similar to The Professional) reminding him of his dead daughter, and how they're innocent victims of circumstance. Apart from recognizing Miguel's potential, he also needs an instrument of destruction if he's to complete his mission and kill the Reyes men.
Seeing as Matt and the U.S. government have disavowed Alejandro's existence, and Miguel is ready to disown his own gang, they're a perfect match.
In theaters now, director Stefano Sollima's Sicario: Day of the Soldado stars Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Jeffrey Donovan reprising their roles, with Isabela Moner, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Catherine Keener.