Rambo: Last Blood
The Rambo film series is a curious case study of how a small and well-intentioned film, was corrupted because of its own success. The first Rambo film, First Blood (1982), took an allegorical look at the difficulties Vietnam War veterans faced when reintegrating into society. The film was supposed to end with protagonist John Rambo’s death, but studio intervention (wanting a cheerier ending) kept him alive. This, along with the smash success of the film, spawned sequels that were further controlled by the studio and thus dressed Rambo increasingly as an American imperialist propaganda figure. The fifth film in the franchise has arrived withRambo: Last Blood (2019).
Rambo: Last Blood attempts to show a character study of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) after he’s successfully settled down on a ranch, becoming a horse trainer. He’s grown close to the ranch’s owner, becoming a father figure to her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). However, when Gabrielle crosses the nearby Mexican border to find her biological father, she is kidnapped, forcing Rambo to sharpen his knives and go to the rescue.
Despite the film’s plot being ripped off from Taken (2008) and its successive trilogies, Last Blood does manage to forge a believable connection between Gabrielle and Rambo. This is largely thanks to a lot of time spent with Gabrielle, who is incarnated convincingly by Monreal in the first half of the film. This allows for Rambo’s quest to seek her out later to hold some weight. Having been pitted as an action film, however, Last Bloodmight be the most scarce in relation to action sequences since First Blood, because of this large focus on pursuit and Gabrielle’s troubles. That’s not to say that it holds the restraint or meditations of First Blood. Like the later films of the franchise, Last Blood revels in the glorification of violence and leans even more on the ignorant, yet problematically racist, portrayal of Rambo’s opponents.
In First Blood, Rambo was battling his own demons as well as prejudice back home in the States. However, subsequent films have pitted him against generalized portrayals of Afghans, Soviets, and Burmese. While all those films excused such racism with the campiness and ridiculous action they choreographed, Last Blood’s attempts and realism exacerbate the problematic setting and opponents. In an age of America, where the vilification of Mexicans and other Latinos has caused tragedy, untold discrimination, and trauma, there is no need for a cinematic staple to fan the flames. The fact is that in Last Blood there is only one non-villainous Mexican character, an investigative journalist who is played by Paz Vega who isn’t even Latina (she’s from Spain). The total ignorance to the harm that such a film is causing on the image of Mexicans and Latinos in the United States is appalling. Added to that a certain home-invasion sequence, where the Mexican cartel crosses easily into American territory to wreak havoc on a supposed American hero, and you wonder if this film wasn’t commissioned as outright propaganda by the White House.
In the end, Rambo: Last Blood shows its true colors by revealing its most intricate sequence as the 20-minute Home Alone-esque home defense by Rambo at his ranch. The entire film, up until that point, seems like a forced and generic elongation in order for this last action sequence to be considered another filmic entry in the Rambo franchise. If these had been the only detractions from the film, it would have been a silly guilty pleasure; however, the harmful racism that the film seems oblivious to spewing, is extremely dangerous considering the times in which this film has been released.