Released: September 2019
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Budget: $50 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, and Óscar Jaenada
Eleven years after finally returning to America, Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Stallone) has devoted his life to his adopted daughter, Gabriela (Monreal). However, when Gabriela is kidnapped by human traffickers while in Mexico, Rambo must take up arms once more to bring her home.
Unquestionably, Rambo is one of cinema’s all-time iconic action heroes; introduced in First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) as a psychologically damaged soldier, the character has evolved into a hulking war machine to a disillusioned old man, all while carrying a haunting presence as he struggles to run from, or confront, his inner demons. The poorly-titled Rambo (Stallone, 2008) seemed to tie the franchise up nicely, with Rambo massacring basically the entire Burmese army and then finally returning home after a lifetime of war, drifting, and toiling away from the United States. However, Stallone appears to be in the middle of a kind of renaissance (or, perhaps, undergoing a farewell tour) as he revisits and retires his iconic characters and, as a result, we now have one more chapter in the life of old man Rambo.
Going into Rambo: Last Blood, I was expecting something that was more like the (comparative) subtlety of First Blood mixed with the gritty, bloody violence of Rambo and, while that is generally the case, it also feels as though Stallone saw some modern action/thrillers like Taken (Morel, 2008) and the John Wick (Stahelski, 2014 to present) films and said: “What if that…but with Rambo?”
As a result, Rambo: Last Blood is, stylistically, a very different film to its predecessors and Rambo is, overall, a very different character. Having bonded with Gabriela and being close to her grandmother, Maria (Adriana Barraza), Rambo is at peace in a way he never has been in the past as he’s finally back with his family and away from conflict. However, Rambo has also filled his time with building an immense network on caves beneath his father’s ranch, which makes for an impressive and bloody finale to the movie, and is swallowing pills of some description to help curb his post-traumatic stress.
However, when Gabriela takes off to Mexico to find her estranged father and doesn’t return, Rambo immediately jumps into his truck and heads down there without a second’s thought to find her and bring her home. Quickly locating the Martinez Brothers, Hugo and Victor (Peris-Mencheta and Jaenada, respectively), Rambo is viciously attacked and has his face scarred by the brothers and their gang of human traffickers. Nursed back to health by journalist Carmen Delgado (Vega), who also has a personal vendetta against the Martinez Brothers, Rambo soon finds himself preparing for war once more, this time to fight for his family first and foremost.
Rambo: Last Blood is, honestly, a bit of a mish-mash of ideas; it ends with a fantastically brutal sequence where Rambo hunts down his prey one by one and murders them in unique and brutal ways, and there’s some intense scenes of him prowling the streets of Mexico chasing down leads and roughing people up for information, and there’s a heart and a tragedy at its core that are reminiscent of other Rambo movies. Yet, throughout it all, I couldn’t help but ask why this movie was deemed necessary; Rambo’s story was largely concluded in Rambo and this extended epilogue, of sorts, only serves to emphasise that this character will never be free from conflict and never be able to truly lay down his guns, which is a sombre and depressing post-script for a character that has, more so than many other action heroes, earned a rest from war.
So, I mentioned Taken above and this is perhaps the most fitting analogy as this film is basically Taken but with Rambo and with one other crucial, gut-punch of a twist…Rambo’s adopted daughter, Gabriela, succumbs to her wounds and drug intake and dies shortly after being rescued by her uncle. This leaves Rambo obsessed with bloody revenge, which he soon obtains when he brutally decapitates Victor off-screen and lures Hugo (alongside a whole slew of nameless, faceless cannon fodder) to his heavily-booby-trapped ranch in order to blow their fuckin’ heads off and literally pull Hugo’s heart from his chest.
This over-the-top action and killing is a delicious coda to the film but, during the conflict, Rambo suffers a few gun shot wounds which threatened to leave him dead but, instead, he simply reflects on his fate in a rocking chair and then (literally) rides off into the sunset. So, at the end of Rambo, it seemed like Rambo was going to finally go home and leave war behind and reconnect with his father. Here, though, his father is nowhere to be seen (and, presumably, long dead) and Rambo suddenly, randomly, has an estranged brother (who’s a complete asshole), a gorgeous young niece/stepdaughter, and a Maria, all of whom help to humanise and settle Rambo’s demons. But, now, with Gabriela dead, Maria gone, and his childhood home decimated, Rambo is left as a drifter once again, riding off into an uncertain future.
Personally, I feel like Gabriela should have survived, perhaps been left in a coma, and Rambo should he satiated this thirst for vengeance but perished in the process, having died fighting for something worthwhile for a change (basically, recreating the end of Logan (Mangold, 2017)…but with Rambo!) Instead, Rambo is left with literally no family to fall back on and no clear end to his story, which may set up for a future instalment later down the line but, in a way, kind of ruins the somewhat-happy ending that Rambo suggested fort he character.
Rambo: Last Blood has a few flaws, mainly in trying to justify why it even exists, but it is undeniably a thrill to see the character back onscreen and just as brutal as ever; age may have caused Rambo to become more methodical but it has done nothing to dull his edge or his pit-bull-like fighting spirit, which is as strong as ever. Its just a bit of a shame that he’s been placed in a movie that isn’t really offering the character much more growth or offering anything new to the action/thriller genre, relying more on nostalgia and gruesome violence to prop up its unoriginal narrative.