Rambo: Last Blood has exactly two things going for it. The first is Sylvester Stallone’s face, a hacked and battered hunk of driftwood with mournful hound dog eyes and a twisted gash of a mouth. The second is that it’s just under an hour and a half long. Beyond that, the rest is a grotesque perversion of everything director Ted Kotcheff’s post-Vietnam action thriller First Blood and its source material, author David Morrell’s book of the same name, stood for. To add insult to injury, the film is also generically ugly in the sort of beige and gray shaky-cam Call of Duty mold in which so many modern action movies are cast
The raw anti-war tragedy of Rambo’s unhinged rant at the climax of First Blood is some of the most devastating action filmmaking ever done, and Kotcheff’s astounding, almost otherworldly framing of badly traumatized Vietnam veteran John Rambo’s guerilla war against a small Pacific Northwestern town’s police force kept the film rooted firmly in a traumatic and alienated headspace. Last Blood, by contrast, has all the emotional immediacy of a trip to the DMV. The camera jumps and jitters without any discernible purpose, as unfocused as the film’s lackluster wardrobe of clothes that too often look fresh off some department store shelf.
Father Knows Best
At its core, Last Blood is a regressive suburban dad fantasy about defending home and family with brutal, infinitely competent violence. The moral rectitude of this violence is unquestionable, directed as it is against flatly evil Mexican sex traffickers who take great pains to explicitly state their disdain for the women they exploit. From the naive Gabriela’s (Yvette Monreal) absent father Manuel (Marco de la O) to vicious sex trafficking kingpin Hugo Martínez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), the film’s villains don’t act like anything remotely resembling human beings. Rambo himself isn’t much more here than a mouthpiece for the kind of masculine anxiety that demands a constant supply of visions of itself as powerful and correct.
When Rambo tells his niece Gabriela not to seek out the father who abandoned her it’s clear right from the jump that he’s right, but not even hearing a graphic description of her father beating her mother with a belt can dissuade Gabriela. Her journey to Mexico, rejection by Manuel — who takes time out of his busy day to tell her at length that she means nothing to him and he considers his time with her as a child a waste — and sale into sex slavery are first her comeuppance for not trusting her guardian and second an excuse to get the movie in gear. She’s simply fuel to prime the blood machine that is John Rambo.
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South of the Border
The statement Last Blood makes with its astoundingly racist and xenophobic portrayals of Mexico and Mexicans reminds me of the words of another great American hero. The movie plants its flag on the idea that Mexicans are subhuman, treacherous cowards who prey on the innocent daughters of good American families, snatching women up from nightclubs and selling them until their bodies break down. Nowhere in any of this graphically violent hellscape are there women whose perspective we share or whose lives we explore. Instead they exist as set dressing, their sliced and battered bodies meant to ratchet up the tension. They have no personalities, no pasts, no connections to the world at all.
The Mexico of Last Blood is more or less Mordor, a place where nothing good or wholesome grows (don’t fucking talk to me about the fertile highlands; I’ve read those damn appendices too) and the people are warped as though by supernatural forces. It’s a border patrol agent’s wet dream of a movie, an inarguable license to step onto Mexican soil and just light up everything that moves until there’s nothing left but bloody rags of flesh clinging to barbed wire.
Last Blood s a vacuous movie sucking at the suppurating sores of America’s worst and stupidest prejudices like some grotesque parasite. If you felt Taken was too cleanly plotted and racially sensitive, boy is this the movie for you.