Based on the evidence supplied by Rambo: Last Blood, Mexico occupies a peculiar place in America's cultural psyche. Despite the fact that, in reality, a significant amount of the United States has been built over Mexican land, it is the UMS that is portrayed as the covetous entity here. In Last Blood the country is a ravenous monster, filled with absurdly antagonistic criminals, eager to chew up and spit out anyone foolish enough to dally there. There may be a throwaway aside between two mob bosses about the export of trafficked women to the United States - which, in of itself, prickles the very real idea that Mexicans suffer to keep oblivious American consumers happy - but, for the most part, the symbiotic relationship between the two lands is limited here to an idea of lawlessness encroaching on sacred, American, soil.
With Mexico positioned as a nightmare blob residing just over the horizon (banished by walls both towering and rudimentary), what prevents Adrian Grunberg's film from registering solely as disgusting, Trumpian wish-fulfilment? Actresses Adriana Barraza and Yvette Monreal are deployed as Rambo's anchors, both playing characters of Mexican descent currently residing in Last Blood's version of Arizona (which looks more like Spain, lending the film and its winding Cu Chi tunnels an exploitative, Macaroni Combat flavour). The women give Sylvester Stallone's character a purchase on reality, but it's a mechanical gesture that seems designed, primarily, to smooth over the savage inhumanity Stallone and co-writer Matthew Cirulnick have assigned to the women's parent country. Neither role is especially complex. Barraza represents maternal worry while Yvette Monreal's Gabriela is a fairy tale innocent; young, beloved and full of promise.
There's precious little depth to Monreal's role - we are instead asked to consider the imperilled, tragic Gabriela within the context of Rambo and the pitiless life he has lead. She's the perfect, idealised child he never had. Her mother is dead, her biological father isn't interested. Rambo has chosen to be the strong, caring man in her life. All hope for his redemption hinges on her and the life she should go on to lead. Since Gabriela is a cipher there's an obvious temptation to think about her role in terms of Stallone's actual life - the writer-actor frequently uses the cover of vein-popping carnage to explore aspects of his own experience. To this end, it's important to note that Stallone lost his own son, Sage, in 2012. Bluntly, this is the power that Last Blood possesses. It's an ugly, filthy examination of parental vengeance fantasies. This isn't grief examined in small, human ways, it's a massive, thrashing tantrum. Stallone plays Rambo as a chewed-up muscle monster struggling through bereavement by pulverising the people who hurt his baby. Last Blood is a film so jaundiced, so confrontational and nakedly functional in its desire to place Stallone in situations where he can growl then deform anonymous, loveless men, that it's actually sort of astonishing.