Released: 19th September
Seen: 2nd October
Rambo is probably the series that will go down as having the worst naming system of them all. It’s almost laughably bad how this franchise is ordered. We have First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, Rambo and now Rambo: Last Blood. In 50 years when historians are trying to order these things, it’s going to be almost goddamn impossible because this series was named stupidly. The films themselves are a mixed bag in terms of quality. I think the first two are the best, certainly the ones that have the most to say about the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but the latter two have their moments of just being plain old fun and over the top. This most recent one… well, I didn’t outright hate it, so let’s start from there.
Rambo: Last Blood picks up a decade after the last Rambo movie with Rambo living on a farm with his friend Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal), whom Rambo has been raising like his daughter. Gabriela has found out that her father is currently in Mexico and, because she’s been curious why he abandoned her for years, she wants to go see him and ask him. After Maria and Rambo both tell Gabriela that she can’t go, Gabriela realises that if she doesn’t disobey their well-reasoned request that the plot can’t start and so with the fate of the narrative on her shoulders she goes down to Mexico. Sure enough, she is eventually drugged and kidnapped to be part of a sex slave ring and Rambo must go save her and do a bunch of murder to the members of the drug cartel.
So, for fun, we’re going to put aside the very obvious and well-known discussion about the racism of this film. I could harp on about how this film depicts everyone south of the border as irredeemably evil and how the film appears to have the attitude of “Some, I assume, are good people”. I could do that for the rest of the review but I’m going to go against that and point out that “fighting a Mexican cartel” is possibly the least interesting thing Rambo could’ve done.
Rambo was at his most interesting, as a character, when his adversary was the US government. The first two movies had Rambo at his best, he was a wounded Vietnam veteran with PTSD who just wanted to live a normal life but had to keep going up against the very government that sent him off to war. That was interesting, it was a political fireball that demanded people realise that the vets need help and were getting screwed over. The first movie just had Rambo trying to get something to eat and the conflict begins when his simple request to live a normal life is ignored by a police officer who treats him badly because that officer doesn’t agree with the war. It was a powerful thing to take the soldiers that had been dubbed “baby killers” by an entire generation and force them to see these men were wounded from a war that they only fought because it was their job. Now? Now Rambo went from a man with a point to make to just a generic guy who is pretty good with weapons and can do a lot of murder in a short amount of time.
I felt nothing when Rambo was trying so desperately to make us care about Gabriela, a person who has never even been mentioned until this movie. She’s only here because they need a reason to give Rambo a conflict and because they refuse to call out the current American government like the original interesting Rambo did, they instead opt for the generic “A girl is put in danger, a big strong man must go save her” story. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems enjoying watching an entire group of sex traffickers being brutally murdered. That bit was fun, sex traffickers are naughty people and should have sharp implements pressed slowly in every one of their holes. I have no problem with that (Other than, ya know, holy crap maybe you should have more than three likable Mexicans in your movie) but it just doesn’t seem to fit here. It’s almost like the human trafficking storyline was something that’s only in the film because producers demanded it… it’s almost like exactly that thing happened.
I can certainly give the ending of this film some credit for really going full bore with the violence, they certainly push the envelope with the violence to the point of comic absurdity but at least I was engaged during that part. I might be bored by your almost predictable sex trafficking story but at least you entertained me with over the top gore effects that look like they came right out of a Mortal Kombat game. Sure, it’s a long way from the original film when Rambo made a point to not kill anyone because he was done with killing but at least it’s something interesting. There’s not much of that here, it’s mostly just dark and depressing because that’s apparently cool now.
I can’t fault the acting or visuals of the film, everything looks fine and all the actors are certainly giving some great performances. Stallone is probably at his most impressive as an emotional actor in this film, especially towards the end when the conflict escalates to its logical extreme. I can certainly call out the mediocre script and the strange pacing choices. There’s literally a moment at the end where Rambo is on his ranch, setting up traps like he’s in Home Alone before he goes all the way to Mexico to talk to one character who is just pointless. He then kills some people to get the cartels attention, then goes back to the ranch and does more trap set up. This has the effect of ramping the film up, then slowing it to a crawl before trying to ramp up again for the finale. This weird pacing thing happens throughout the film in smaller ways and I just do not like it.
Rambo: Last Blood should never have been made, it wasn’t needed and no one was asking for it. It doesn’t add anything to the story of Rambo, it doesn’t let him finally have peace. If anything this is a complete de-evolution of his character where he goes from actually having a point to just being replaceable with any random guy with some weapons training. Rambo no longer has anything to say and, therefore, no reason to be around. At best you can say this film has a blisteringly over the top ending that’s kind of fun to watch and some good performances, but I could replace Rambo with a random 30-something named Dave and the film would not feel any different. It’s tired, it’s boring and it’s bland… OH, also there are my old friends the strobe lights and all that racism we’re meant to not acknowledge. Can we please just let this be the last time we ever see John Rambo?