Film

What Latino Critics Are Saying About ‘Rambo: Last Blood’

Lead Photo: Sylvester Stallone stars as 'John Rambo' in RAMBO: LAST BLOOD. Photo by Yana Blajeva. Courtesy of Lionsgate
Sylvester Stallone stars as 'John Rambo' in RAMBO: LAST BLOOD. Photo by Yana Blajeva. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Hollywood movies aim to be crowd pleasers. It’s their monstrous budget that makes this a necessity. It’s no accident then, that a time when politicians have publicly demonized Mexicans, that a spate of blockbusters looks to do the same. Whether it be Sicario: Day of the Soldado or Peppermint, tent-pole revenge fantasies have a new target: Mexican drug cartels. In line with this trend, Rambo: Last Blood moves its protagonist to a ranch in Arizona and sends him across the southern border in a rage, in search of an adoptive niece who’s gone missing. That’s where he comes up against – you guessed it – a savage group of traffickers.

With this change in setting, it’s vital that Latino critics join the conversation about the movie. And since most media outlets don’t employ Latino film critics, we gave them the chance to opine on the film. Read their reviews below.

Rambo: Last Blood is currently in theaters.

— Vanessa Erazo, Remezcla Film Editor

Adriana Barraza as ‘Maria Beltran’ and Sylvester Stallone as ‘John Rambo’ in RAMBO: LAST BLOOD. Photo by Yana Blajeva. Courtesy of Lionsgate

One of Hollywood’s favorite practices is to demonize Mexico (and Latin America in general) as a grotesquely lawless setting where hope has no place. This, in turn, dehumanizes anyone who lives there or comes from there. In Adrian Grunberg’s Rambo: Last Blood, a new and unrequested installment in the mercenary saga, that depraved tradition tailored for the MAGA crowd is upheld. Rambo, one of Sylvester Stallone’s signature characters, now understands Spanish and somehow raised a Mexican-American girl, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) whose father abandoned her and mom died of a terminal illness.

As progressive as that could deceivingly sound, once Gabrielle heads to Mexico is search of her dad, horror ensues. Drugged, she is trapped in a prostitution ring and Rambo must rescue her from the soulless Mexicans. Oscar-nominee Adriana Barraza enriches the screen as Maria with the only performance of note — mostly in Spanish. Her character’s unseen story, as a Mexican woman who found herself living with a crazy killing machine, is likely more gripping than what we get.

Ineptitude is far more lethal than all the traps this weathered Rambo sets up to savagely murder his enemies. Rambling lectures on Rambo’s platitude-ridden moral compass go hand in hand with an embarrassingly unskilled cast working from a lazily written screenplay in which jarring plot holes are filled with gore. From a technical standpoint the decisive final sequences in the tunnel that evokes the antics seen in Home Alone counts as the sole achievement here. Elsewhere the unrefined filmmaking offers no visual novelty beyond a couple unexpected zooms. Even the editing is botched marked by choppy and purposeless montages.

Rambo ridiculously returns to the United States accompanied by a corpse in the passenger seat without going through customs or being chased by border patrol, yet my aunts have to wrap mole, queso, and rompope in clothing to sneak them in their luggage when they come visit. Later, heightening the absurdity, or perhaps to infer that Mexicans are actually invading, a horde of criminals riding in black SUVs arrives at Rambo’s ranch. Again, whoever told these writers it was so simple to cross the border lied to them.

At the end of this atrociously mediocre production, you can almost hear a concerned racist saying, “And that’s why I would never let me daughter go to Mexico” or “That’s why we need the wall!” Let’s hope they let this last blood bleed out till the last drop so that we don’t get another nonsensical transfusion.

— Carlos Aguilar

Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Óscar Jaenada in RAMBO: LAST BLOOD. Photo by Yana Blajeva. Courtesy of Lionsgate

To judge by the Thursday night audience I watched Rambo: Last Blood with, people go to a Rambo film for one reason alone: to see the titular Sylvester Stallone character kill. Not just kill. They cheered whenever he maimed, decapitated, stabbed, disemboweled, shot and blew up any one of the many brown-skinned enemies the script requires he dispose of. In this, the Adrian Grunberg-directed flick, however clunkily shot, delivers.

Since the cruel violence is the point, it’s no surprise to find Matt Cirulnick and Stallone’s borderline laughable script offering a generic “Rambo vs. Mexican cartel” wisp of a plot. The whole premise of Rambo’s niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) heading to Mexico to look for the father who had abandoned her only to find herself Miss Bala-ed at the mercy of a cartel, is just an excuse to give Rambo an enemy he can direct his bubbling anger at. It’s why he leaves his Arizona farm to track Gabrielle down. What follows is, unsurprisingly, a bloodbath. First at the hands of the cartel who beat up a glowering Rambo and later at the hands of the latter in revenge once he turns the family farm into his very own Skyfall (with little of the elegance and inventiveness of that Bond take on Home Alone).

Beyond the glaringly obvious racist optics (those Mexicans across the border are all bad) the actioner has the gall to frame Rambo’s anger in response to the brutal sexual violence his niece is subject to. The entire film is an exercise in “fridging,” wherein a female character’s violent fate is just a plot device for the male character’s story. For a drama that claims to care about what happened to Gabrielle, Rambo: Last Blood spends more time demanding we feel the ugly violence inflicted on any number of Rambo’s victims (with close-ups of broken bones, splattered guts and eventually a torn up heart) than the traumatic events that afflict the young girl.

As I left the theater, the crowd was still cheering. For Rambo had delivered what they wanted: 89 minutes of nonstop indiscriminate violence. It didn’t really matter at whom it was directed. Which is what made its tone-deaf choice of an idea of a Mexican cartel (which looks more like a special-ops military team than anything else) feel all the more insidious, reminding us who Hollywood has no qualms in dehumanizing and bloodily gutting for audiences’ viewing pleasure.

— Manuel Betancourt

Photo by Yana Blajeva. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Rambo: Last Blood — the fifth installment in the saga of Vietnam vet John Rambo — is a ridiculous, sadistic and offensive story of vengeance that should never have been made.

Half of the movie takes place in an unnamed town in Mexico. In this wrongheaded film, all the legions of characters that live in Mexico — save one journalist — are depicted as avaricious, uber-violent and heartless.

This absurd gore-fest is exactly the movie we don’t need in these times of racist hatred and excessive gun violence — especially in the wake of last month’s mass shooting in El Paso targeting Mexicans, and the inhumane treatment of immigrants held at the U.S. border.

Seeing hordes of assault weapon-toting Mexican criminals, and their terrorized sex slaves meet up with a white savior — in the septuagenarian form of Sylvester Stallone — seems particularly tone-deaf.

The story cribs from the Taken franchise. Rambo travels from his Arizona ranch to Mexico to track down his niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who has gone there to find her estranged father, but gets kidnapped by sex traffickers. Equipped with knives and all manner of inane savagery, Rambo brutally slays several cartel members, rescues his niece and heads home. Soon after, about 50 guys leave Mexico in a phalanx of black Escalades to get Rambo in Arizona. Meanwhile, Rambo has elaborately booby-trapped his property, dooming it to even more ramshackle status.

The name Rambo has become synonymous with oversized revenge fantasies, but the very real problem of human trafficking feels both glossed over and exploited here, used only as a convenient prop for Rambo’s torturous sadism.

The last third of the movie is so grotesquely barbaric it starts to feel like an absurd blend of Saw and Final Destination. Rambo blithely sets people on fire, impales, decapitates and pulls organs out of bodies as if it’s part of his workout regime. The methods used to torture legions of dark-skinned men in a series of tunnels under Rambo’s farmhouse are engineered to elicit laughter, cheers and applause from the audience. It’s stomach-turning.

The best, most natural performance comes from Adriana Barraza as Rambo’s maid and Gabrielle’s caretaker. She’s such a good actress it feels like she showed up in the wrong movie. She speaks mostly Spanish to Rambo, who appears to understand, though he responds in English. Occasionally he growls a word of heavily American-accented Spanish, like “vete!” to the girls being held captive by the drug cartel.

“Vete” is good advice for anyone considering buying a ticket to this movie.

— Claudia Puig

Photo by Yana Blajeva. Courtesy of Lionsgate

When we first met him in First Blood in 1982, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo was a relatable hero — he fought government oppression of everyday people and decried a culture of war that had laid waste to an American generation in Vietnam. Leave it to Hollywood, with Rambo: Last Blood, to turn the character into a bloodthirsty shadow of himself. It ruins not the ill-conceived foreign policy that spawned Rambo, but the already abysmal attempts Hollywood has made, despite current political tides, to portray Latinos as, well, humans.

In Rambo: Last Blood, Stallone is now a septuagenarian living on an Arizona farm with housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza) while caring for his adoptive niece Gabrielle (Yvette Montreal). You may be heartened to hear actresses speaking Spanish, but hope will yield to incredulity after Gabrielle plans a visit to Mexico and Rambo demands: “Why would you ever want to do that?” As this setup suggests, the film’s view on Mexico is unequivocal: do not go there. Sure enough, when Gabrielle and, later, Rambo, venture south, they encounter violence that puts MS-13 to shame. Mexico is portrayed as a barren wasteland of traffickers and rapists, with the “it is hell over there” message appearing even through the cinematographer’s hues — dark and scary in Sonora, bright and sunny in Arizona.

Still, one could get over distasteful depictions — and the implication that Latinos in the United States should be terrified of Mexicans south of the border — if this actioner had some other redeeming quality. Unfortunately, after Gabrielle is kidnapped, it devolves into nothing but a glorified revenge fantasy with illogical plot contrivances, low production values (the music appears as if synthesized from a MIDI player) and no sense of self-awareness.

In this installment, Rambo becomes a reckless, purpose-driven soldier, the embodiment of the philosophy of unfettered violence he had previously rejected. A better script would appreciate the irony in this self-negating betrayal, by noting that the system of war that begot Rambo is so wicked that it turned him into a monster too. But as jarring edits guide you while the body count mounts — as humans are sliced, diced, blown up, and burned with booby-traps that will make the Home Alone kid jealous — you won’t find any such philosophical depth. This is all “Rambo” and “Blood.” Let’s hope it is the “Last” too.

— J. Don Birnam