What a crazy 37 years it has been for Sylvester Stallone’s John J. Rambo. In 1982 he battled PTSD and a backwoods sheriff in upstate Washington. In 1985 he went back to Vietnam at the behest of crooked Washington bureaucrats. In 1988 he traveled to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and save a friend. In 2008 he led a group of mercenaries into war-torn Burma to rescue a Christian missionaries. He’s done a lot, seen a lot, killed a lot.
And just when you thought Rambo’s cinematic tour of duty was done, the 73-year-old Stallone dusts off the character for one final fight (at least that’s what the title implies). “Rambo: Last Blood” doesn’t send the war-scarred vet too a far from home. This time the story has him bouncing back and forth between his dusty ranch in Arizona and Mexico.
Eleven years after the events of the not-so-great 2008 film Rambo has found a semblance of peace on his family’s old home place. He lives there with his housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal) who he has raised as his own daughter. But Rambo and happiness have never went together so you know his retirement from one-man armying is doomed from the start.
When Gabriela learns the whereabouts of her birth father in Mexico, she goes against Rambo’s wishes and sneaks south of the border to find him. In the most predictable of turns she is snatched up by human traffickers working for a local drug cartel. To no surprise Rambo doesn’t take it sitting down. He heads to Mexico to rescue Gabriela stoking a war with the cartel in the process.
Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of the first three Rambo movies. They were silly, bombastic, and a ton of fun. They were full of energy, big action, and really driven performances from Stallone. The forth film came some twenty years after “Rambo III” and went in a grittier, gorier, and more joyless direction. “Last Blood” falls more in line with the last film instead of the original three. It’s darker, bloodier, and Stallone looks completely worn out.
To be fair, Rambo is supposed to be worn out considering the life he has lived. We see a little of that during an early and brief PTSD sequence that is unfortunately dropped and never revisited. That’s a story thread I wish had been explored. But Sly’s performance itself seems drained of all energy and emotion. He (not just his character) looks tired. Admittedly it’s still good to see him back in the role even if he lacks the zest you expect.
The most noticeable thing about “Last Blood” is how its story really doesn’t resemble anything else from the franchise. It particularly lacks the big action moments the others films are known for. Yes there are a few sudden bursts of graphic violence but nothing that will stick with you. And it’s especially true for the final ten minutes which is this frantic blood-soaked collage of grisly kills that’s over in a snap. Little buildup, extremely rushed, and it ends with this absurdly gruesome moment that’s completely out of sync with the better films of the franchise.
Surprisingly I liked the setup of “Last Blood” more than the payoff. The movie deals with some pretty heavy subject matter and despite not giving it the emotional weight or depth it deserves, it’s still pretty effective table-setting. Yes, the predictable cries of xenophobia are out there which some may find cathartic in today’s politically-charged climate. But a more level-headed look at the film finds its problems lie elsewhere. And unfortunately there are plenty of them.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS