REVIEW: Rambo: Last Blood

THE STORY

Rambo must confront his past and unearth his ruthless combat skills to exact revenge in a final mission.

THE REVIEW

Sylvester Stallone has always been an admirable artist in my eyes as he shares some of the more remarkable personality traits of his most famous roles (no, not the killing… I think) with the resilience of Rocky and Rambo.

Despite being relegated to Direct-To-Video purgatory during the early 2000’s following a string of box office and critical failures, he came back in a big way with the much better than anyone expected Rocky Balboa and Rambo in 2008.

The purpose of each sequel was to give closure to his most iconic characters – as well as bring him back into Hollywood stardom – and they succeeded as both were critical and box office hits which gave fans the endings they deserved.

Yet Stallone later decided that he wasn’t finished with either of them, continuing Rocky’s story to even greater acclaim with Creed and lesser acclaim with Creed II. And now after almost 10 years since the last outing, he’s revisiting John Rambo as well in Rambo: Last Blood.

But this time, he should have stayed retired.

This franchise has had a very strange evolution, starting with First Blood, a legitimately great film and action classic which explored PTSD through the mistreatment and misunderstanding of a Vietnam veteran coming back home that also features one of Stallone’s most underrated performances. There is only 1 death during the whole duration.

And it’s accidental.

When the sequels came out, a once thoughtful story was transformed into mindless action shooters (albeit great action shooters) and the damaged soldier was turned into a superhero, taking on bigger armies with each subsequent adventure.

There are 503 deaths during the duration of all the continuations.

Rambo: Last Blood tries to have both versions of the character without fully succeeding on representing either nor recapturing what made the previous installments special.

In spite of this, Stallone is great as he slips back into the role of the psychologically disturbed and physically weary veteran with ease, switching between the more dramatic moments (which is surprisingly most of the movie) and the action hero that is looking to exact revenge with no effort.

It’s the script that fails him, going for a story that packs a ton of opportunities for a thematically rich exploration of the character and an important message that could have had a lot to say regarding problems faced in a troubling part of the world but instead goes for the most basic and unsurprising routes.

Growing up as a kid watching Rambo fight armies of vietnamese, soviet, burmese soldiers and… one sheriff, I never thought my own country would be on the receiving end of his bloody hands. It’s interesting seeing the outrage of having this all american hero take on a mexican cartel as the villains and the accusations of xenophobia and racism. It’s also funny, pointless and just as misguided as accusing Rambo: Last Blood being racist.

Although it’s true that the timing for the release is less than ideal, I can’t agree with these accusations as the bad guys are just… bad guys. They aren’t evil because of where they come from, they are evil just because the script needs them to be that way. Neither does Rambo go against them because of an ideology nor does it try to make a case that all Mexico is like that.

One problem it does have is that dealing with topics of drug cartels, prostitution and kidnappings in Mexico through this type of movie can bring issues that are real to the forefront in order to create a conversation about them. But the end result is that this is all just an excuse to have our hero gun down a large amount of despicable human beings. Rambo: Last Blood is not racist, it’s lazy.

Ultimately, let’s face it, politics have always been shaky in this franchise and it isn’t the main reason anyone watches them.

The Rambo sequels have always had two constants; confusing titles – seriously, the order is First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, Rambo (even known as John Rambo in some places) and now Rambo: Last Blood – and violence. Lots and lots of violence. At least what a movie called Last Blood gets absolutely right is the Blood part.

It does take a while for us to be treated to full blown Rambo mode, but what it lacks in quantity is more than made up in quality with a memorable third act action sequence which features some truly gruesome and brutal kills on display here that rival the graphic violence depicted in the .50 Caliber scene from 2008’s Rambo.

And after all the guts, blood, and pain, Last Blood could have given us an emotionally affecting ending… yet the keyword here is could and the filmmakers just weren’t able to stop themselves. Not to spoil anything but suffice to say that once the credits start rolling and we are treated to one of the best parts with slow motion clips of the past films (it really is), leave the theater as soon as Rambo – or Rambo IV or John Rambo – comes up. There is a post credit scene that smears what was a poignant and powerful conclusion with a cheesy and unnecessary moment.

THE CONCLUSION

Rambo: Last Blood could have delivered a powerful final chapter with an important message to be found within that is wasted by telling an unremarkable and predictable story for a remarkable character. Stallone visibly cares about the franchise and gives it his all but fans won’t find much of worth here besides a very well done action packed third act and large amounts of blood to keep them entertained.

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