In Sicario 2, the series' focus shifts from drugs to human trafficking. Following a domestic attack, the US government decrees the drug cartels as a terrorist threat and wants to wage a more traditional War on Drugs. Josh Brolin's Matt Graver suggests pitting the various sides against each other in a civil war scenario similar to the Middle-East, with America stepping in once the battle's already been fought. To do this, he puts together a team - including Benicio del Toro's Alejandro Gillick - to kidnap the daughter of Carlos Reyes, leader of one of the cartels, intending to frame it as an act from a rival gang.
This does not go to plan. Isabela Reyes figures out the double-bluff, and later the corrupt Mexican police lead an ambush on Matt, Alejandro and their squad; the cops are killed but Isabela escapes, with Alejandro set off after her while the rest return to the US border. Sicario 2 then pivots, with the very public fallout of the botched operation leading to the mission being called off and it commanded that the duo racing for the Mexican border must be burned. This creates an ethical debate for Matt, who brought both of them into the fray, and sets up a morally conflicted ending.
- This Page: What Really Happens In Sicario 2's Ending
- Page 2: Alejandro's Survival, Sicario 2's Final Scene, & Sicario 3 Setup
What Happens To Matt?
When Alejandro actives his tracking beacon, initially intended to be used for a pickup but now a marker for assassination, Matt leads a task force to take out him and Isabela. However, during his attempt to cross the border as a Mexican migrant, Alejandro is identified by a new smuggler he crossed paths with earlier. He attempts to talk his way out, but winds up taken out into the desert where he's shot in the head.
For Matt, this is both a relief and a horror. He was struggling with the command to kill Alejandro given the pair's close working relationship and the fact he was the one who called upon the sicario in the first place, so this frees him of the killing task. However, it still sees his friend murdered, a loss which weighs heavily on him, to the point that when attacking the smugglers to reach Isabela, he takes her instead of killing her as instructed.
Across both Sicario and Soldado, Matt has been personified by his willingness to do what is necessary regardless of typical morality. The rules exist for the illusion of protection, but what he does exists above that. Indeed, he opens the movie saying he could pick off a suspect's family one-by-one all day. Yet in seeing that callousness applied by others so close to home, he's forced to check himself. In the final shot, the seeds of doubt are planted and he questions his very nature: is the sacrifice too much?
What Happens To Isabela?
Isabela Reyes has a similar change across her arc. She starts off as a dangerous teenager, fighting classmates and successfully threatening teachers, but the moment the protection of her kingpin father is gone she's forced to recognize isolation and fend for herself. She's in danger from everyone, and in Alejandro begins to see the human cost of her life of privilege. The world she inhabits in is unexpectedly fragile, especially with the US involvement, and safety is found elsewhere.
After saving her at the end of the film, Matt says he'll put her in witness protection. The act says more about his journey towards compassion, but also goes some way to summarise her ultimate powerlessness, changing hands as a commodity no less than the immigrants the cartels trade in.
What Happens To America's War On Drugs?
The first Sicario made a big point about the questionable legality of the nevertheless Washington-approved inter-agency mission, with Emily Blunt's Kate Mercer only involved because the CIA needed an FBI agent. Sicario 2 comes at the story from another angle - with Kate absent and Matt the lead, it's one of knowledge - and in doing so has less concern for the public face... until it comes crashing down.
In Day of the Soldado, how the US is trying to silently influence the cartel power balance is revealed to the public through the botched mission. The President loses confidence and everything crumbles. It's the realization of what Kate threatened at the end of Sicario, and highlights how fragile the brutish approach to international relations is the moment it's outside of hushed conversations in dark rooms.
How Alejandro Survived
But what happens on the US side of the border is only half of Sicario: Day of the Soldado's ending: we have Alejandro's survival to contend with. Although he's presumed dead, the shot by Miguel Hernandez - the up-and-coming smuggler seen throughout the film - was only a flesh wound (albeit a close call). It's not stated explicitly, but it appears that the Miguel spared Alejandro's life, shooting him in the jaw and leading to serious blood loss but nothing fatal.
The hitman frees himself and, with the help of a fellow victim's belt buckle, begins to make his continued bid for freedom. He comes across the aftermath of the CIA's attack on the smuggler convoy and takes the neon-green front vehicle, offing a duo of rival gang members with a carefully placed grenade before driving off into the unknown.
Alejandro is a man driven by revenge. In Sicario 1, he was working with the CIA primarily so he could kill Fausto Alarcón, the man who murdered his wife and family (and, in doing so, destabilize Carlos Reyes' operation). Here, his targets are marked on the big boss; he's set loose by Matt and aims to hit him where it hurts. The movie ends with him truly "free" - he's presumed dead by the CIA and so able to operate without any watching eye or oversight - but by making him a protector of Isabela (he even gives her the tracker, valuing her life over his), some of that anger and drive appears to have been put in question. Contrasted with Matt's end-point, and Sicario 2 is really aiming to push these unpushable men to their limits. However, it's not quite enough for Alejandro.
One Year Later: A New Sicario
The final scene of Sicario 2 takes place one year after the main events of the film, picking up with Miguel now fully embodying his gang member position: his arms are covered in tattoos, his hair crew cut, and his clothing chequered. He goes to visit his cousin's work in the mall, only to be confronted by Alejandro, sporting only a small scar as a reminder of their previous encounter. At first fearful, it's clear Alejandro has no revenge plan on Miguel: "you want to be a Sicario?" he asks, then closes the door.
Even for the frank presentation of Sicario, this is a highly ambiguous endnote. The implication, of course, is that Alejandro recognizes the act of compassion and sees Miguel as a potential student. He does, after all, have the stomach to stand against authority even while looking to be part of it, just as Alejandro has been across the previous two movies.
How The Ending Sets Up Sicario 3
The ending of Sicario 2 suggests that going into Sicario 3, we can expect Alejandro to have an apprentice of sorts, someone to help him in his quest for Reyes from the inside. This mission is the real overarching narrative, and now the titular hitman has truly been set loose. Of course, this will also put him on a collision course with the authorities; could the third movie see Matt and Alejandro on opposing sides?
The really interesting hook for Sicario 3, though, is the reintroduction of Kate Mercer. The producers want Emily Blunt to reprise her role, and the narrative almost demands it. In Day of the Soldado, we saw Matt question his place in the crime-fighting world in a direct mirror to how she did in the first Sicario. The two movie have brought two very different people much more ideologically close than they ever thought possible. That relationship and potential clashes or partnerships are just as exciting as a gang war.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a murkier movie than Sicario, in both the presentation of the American drug war and how it discusses its themes. That's mainly because the message is less clear-cut, and so the movie struggles to fully define itself. What it does incredibly successfully, though, is move the pieces in position for a third movie while very much feeling like a standalone film. The war isn't over yet.