The character of Rambo has become one of the most iconic in action cinema serving as a lasting example of machismo in the genre and one of Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic characters. The focus of four movies prior to this weekend (three 80s classics and a fourth film in 2008), John Rambo returned to the big screen for, allegedly, the final time in “Rambo: Last Blood” with Stallone reprising the role. Co-written by Stallone and directed Adrian Grunberg who also led the critically loved “Get the Gringo” in 2012, “Last Blood” offered a lot of promise that it would close out the franchise on a high note but once fans learned of the premise there were doubts as to whether it could live up to expectations. I had the opportunity to see for myself just how good, or bad, this final installment in the series is so let’s examine if it’s a worthy finale or an underwhelming insult to the series. This is my review of “Rambo: Last Blood”.
“Rambo: Last Blood” takes place eleven years after 2008’s “Rambo” and sees the Vietnam War veteran retired from duty and settling into life on his family ranch. Rambo (Stallone) manages the horses and property with the help of his friend Maria as well as Maria’s granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) who has become a daughter figure to Rambo. When Gabrielle reveals that she wants to journey to Mexico to find her estranged father both Rambo and Maria warn against the idea leading Gabrielle to go against their wishes on her own. As a result Gabrielle to be targeted and kidnapped by a Mexican Cartel led by brothers Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) Martinez. Determined to save Gabrielle and haunted by his own violent past, Rambo sets off on one final bloody mission to end the cartel’s reign of terror.
Boy how the mighty fall. This is a bad movie…I mean this is an insultingly bad film even by the lowest standards of a “Rambo” feature. “Last Blood” features the lowest of lows for the Rambo property, both for the character and for the franchise as a whole, as we see the aged veteran trying to move on from the bloody violence of his service to live a quiet, simple, happy life. Reading that you’d think that “Last Blood” would take advantage of such an idea and showcase the destructive effects of PTSD and the impact of service to one’s country on the psyche, right? Well, unfortunately “Last Blood” has no time for subtlety despite its mercifully short 1.5 hour run time (actually more like an hour and 20 minutes before credits). Instead its more interested in providing one of the most bare bones, uninspired and basic action movie setups that barely challenges its titular character and promotes violence and revenge as cathartic rather than self-destructive. The “Rambo” franchise has always been a blood-filled spectacle that puts more focus on the violence and I get that’s why people go to see these movies, but with so many promising directions available that could have finally humanized Rambo once an for all it’s truly disappointing to see this final film phone things in.
“Last Blood” relegates Rambo to a violence obsessed war veteran who seems to enjoy killing more than he does moving on. That would have been an interesting idea to tackle had this movie been competently made. How do you just go on with a normal life after all the violence Rambo has endured? Can you be happy? Thought provoking stuff right? Well “Last Blood” almost tries to tackle this idea but instead portrays Rambo as someone who craves vengeance and makes little to no attempt to tackle what could have been some deep themes about what’s next for a worn-out soldier or how to move on from violence while still embracing it when necessary. Rambo all-to-easily resorts to his destructive tendencies without an ounce of nuance. All complexity is relegated to inner monologues that honestly don’t even fit with the story in most cases. To his credit Stallone does what he can with the character, but an incredibly bland script and screenplay that HE helped write seems to be confused about its own intentions. There are shades of decent idea in here but there’s no real committed attempt to delve into the deeper elements of these ideas and when tie script tries to course correct we get some of the corniest, most carelessly slapped together dialogue of the year which really makes you wonder if Stallone and co-writer Matthew Cirulnick actually wrote this film for the paycheck rather than from genuine interest in exploring the depths of a once-great character.
Even if you argue that the “Rambo” franchise was never supposed to be about the more subtle aspects of humanity and was more about the violence and pulse-pounding action I fail to see how anyone wouldn’t be insulted by “Last Blood”. The story is as bland as you can get pitting Rambo against a Mexican drug cartel, one of the most cliché and forced villains in modern action films, relegating him from once great veteran to the most basic of action movie heroes. It’s basically Stallone’s version of “Taken”. I’ll admit once the blood finale does kick in “Last Blood” can be a lot of fun and if you’ve read other reviews you know that the final confrontation does kick things up a level. I can also credit the film for taking a chance on one specific character’s fate that I honestly didn’t expect which gives Rambo motivation going into the third act. But in the end, this is quite literally nothing we haven’t seen before. It takes the very idea of Rambo and betrays it, watering down what complexity you could find in his character and story and the fun and inventive war-related scenarios he used to face and settling for simply existing to exist topping everything off with a strangely fitting jumping-the-shark moment at the end of the final confrontation that, if you think about it, is symbolic for the REAL impact this movie has left on this franchise. You’ll get it when and if you see it but no spoilers here.
“Rambo: Last Blood” is just an unbearably lazy and bad movie, BUT it’s one of those movie’s that’s so bad it’s actually kind of fun to watch. I will say thanks in part to the fun finale and the short run time “Last Blood” wasn’t a painful viewing I wanted to walk out of, it was simply as underwhelming as a final installment to such a big franchise could possibly be. It lacks inspiration or any semblance of humanity beyond some forced and ineffective attempts to delve into Rambo’s phoned-in attachment to his family and features forgettable villains, a by-the-numbers modern action setup that leans more on xenophobia than actual context to drive home the plot, and features some of the most cringe worthy dialogue offered in any major release of 2019 to date. When the credit sequence, which offers a fun tribute to Rambo through snippets of past installments, is the BEST part of the movie because it reminds you how much better this franchise used to be you know you’ve offered up a truly terrible end to such an iconic property.