Synopsis – Rambo must confront his past and unearth his ruthless combat skills to exact revenge in a final mission.
My Take – Sylvester Stallone has two iconic yet very different characters to his name, Rocky and Rambo. While Rocky has evolved into an emotional and a relatable character over the years especially with films like Rocky Balboa and Creed, the latter which saw him scoring an Oscar nomination decades later, but Rambo has been a different beast altogether.
Ever since First Blood opened in cinemas back in 1982, it dropped a political allegory and saw the lead character as a haunted Vietnam veteran, who is discarded by his country and wrongly persecuted. Sequels, however, made him into an unstoppable killing machine who slaughtered nominal baddies in the most brutal ways.
And as one would expect, here, director Adrian Grunberg has built upon the last two installments by making a film that is quick and populated by fleeting images of death and destruction, but also senseless, dehumanizing, nihilistic, humorless, cruel, and psychologically challenging to watch.
The ingredients for a high octane revenge thriller are all here, but the humanity is clearly lost. Even though it seemed like this supposed final installment looked to scale things back, it has clearly lost the thread of where this character came from.
Instead of exploring his trauma in his old age, that’s given lip service to his country, everything is discarded in favor of being a violent thriller. While Rocky Balboa got the perfect retirement with Creed II, the same unfortunately can’t be said for John Rambo.
Set 11 years after the event of the last film, the story follows John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), Vietnam War veteran, who has finally found peace living on his late father’s ranch in Bowie, Arizona. Sharing it with his old family friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), Rambo has settled into the role of a rancher and a de facto uncle.
Now in his 70s, Rambo is contend while suppressing his violent urges and PTSD, by pouring them into creating an elaborate Vietnam style cave system under the ranch, complete with plenty of weapons. However, his peaceful life is interrupted when Gabrielle, despite Rambo and Maria warning against it, sneaks off in search of her father to Mexico, and doesn’t come back.
Sensing something is wrong, Rambo heads down to find her, putting him in cross hairs with a gang led by the sadistic Martinez brothers Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada), who have kidnapped and sold Gabrielle into sex slavery.
The film almost functions as a Taken knockoff than as a potential conclusion to the franchise. The beats of the story closely resemble Liam Neeson’s action series, more so than Stallone’s own last hurrah. Not only does that make the events incredibly generic, it arguably removes much of the intrigue in the Rambo character. What’s mystifying about the approach taken here, much like Stallone’s Expendables series, is that it’s nostalgic in name only. It’s the character you know from the ‘80s, in a film that has conspicuous modern difficulties; namely an inability to develop character, pace scenes, and emotionally involve the audience.
For the first half minutes of the film, your expectations will rise and fall spectacularly. It starts off with promising character etching, eventually tapering off into a haphazardly put together climax that just wants to get the fight over with. Clearly, much effort hasn’t been placed into writing an actual story, as the script is blunt and literal, the staging witless and messy.
A disappointing fact considering Stallone has co-written the film with Dan Gordon and Matt Cirulnick. It feels rather generic, and substitutes proper character development with brutal violence in almost every frame of the second half. If you feel any empathy, it is solely because of Stallone’s acting, and what we’ve seen his Rambo go through, finally finding a semblance of family life, only to have it taken away so horribly.
The whole Mexican drug cartel plot feels something racists would totally enjoy, because practically every Mexican is shown as either devious, criminal or helpless and resigned. Also the way both Gabriella and Rambo move in and out of Mexico makes border control look laughable.
The real-world explanation for these anomalies is that this film is a lazy and poorly executed sequel that compromises on the series’ historic aesthetic to appeal to an imaginary constituency of action fans interested in 70-year-old protagonists, thereby satisfying neither generation. There was an opportunity here to say goodbye to this iconic character by crafting a film that had psychological nuance, emotional depth, and gratuitous violence. In the end they settled for gratuitous violence, and that’s not anything like enough.
Without a doubt, director Adrian Grunberg knows how to creatively depict action kills, as the violence here is of epic proportions, especially in the third act. The gore is plentiful, showcasing the anger and power within our hero. However, without a semblance of a story-line to justify Rambo’s unleashed rage, the whole thing just feels like overkill. The bad guys didn’t have a fighting chance in those tunnels that Rambo knows like the back of his hand. It’s almost too easy, too quick and too outrageous to watch without feeling queasy.
Performance wise, Sylvester Stallone does quite well here. While the film downplays him throughout, Stallone himself imbues the character, one which he has been playing for years, with some nice touches. However, the same cannot be said about the other cast members. In supporting turns, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal and Paz Vega are wasted, while Óscar Jaenada and Sergio Peris-Mencheta play the characters of two borderline racist caricatures perfectly. On the whole, ‘Rambo: Last Blood‘ is an incredibly generic action thriller which acts as a mediocre and sorely disappointing end to an iconic character’s arc.
Directed – Adrian Grunberg
Rated – R
Run Time – 89 minutes