Directed by: Adrian Grunberg
Premise: The fifth installment in the Rambo series. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has returned home and lives on a ranch near the US-Mexico border where he is a father to his niece (Yvette Monreal). When the young woman is kidnapped by human traffickers, Rambo must rescue her.
What Works: Director Adrian Grunberg is a competent action filmmaker. He had previously helmed 2012’s Get the Gringo and the action scenes of Last Blood
are generally done well. The climax, which takes place in a network of
underground tunnels, is impressive in its style and ferocity. The
caves are also interesting in the way they relate to Rambo’s Vietnam
experience. During that war, the Vietcong used underground tunnels and the caves of Last Blood are one of the few examples of this series explicitly referring to Rambo’s Vietnam experience.
What Doesn’t: There are a number of problems with Last Blood but the most critical flaw of the film—and the one that’s most quickly apparent—is that this does not feel like a Rambo movie. Sylvester Stallone’s performance is not consistent with the character that we’ve seen in the previous four movies. Instead, the Rambo of Last Blood comes across as a generic action hero, the kind of character found in many Rambo imitators. The movie also dispenses with many of the themes of this series or handles them poorly. Rambo is defined by a paradox; he’s an expert killer who doesn’t really want to kill. In each installment he tries to evade violence but he is always drawn back to the battlefield. That tension is gone from this movie and Last Blood often feels like it was created by people who hadn’t seen the other films. That’s doubly confounding because Stallone is credited as a co-writer. That Last Blood is violent is no surprise but having gutted this installment of the ideas that defined the series and its character, the violence of Last Blood is without purpose or point. The violence is often extreme and gratuitous. It isn’t fun in the way an action picture usually is but the gore doesn’t serve any purpose. And even if that is what the filmmakers were trying to say—that Rambo is a killing machine for whom violence is an end in itself—the movie sends confusingly mixed messages. Last Blood could have used its premise and the violence to suggest something about moral ambiguity or heroism or the nature of warfare as was accomplished in the previous Rambo adventure. But Last Blood has nothing to say either about these ideas or about its central character. The story is frequently stupid. Once the young woman has been kidnapped, Rambo travels to Mexico where he’s somehow able to figure out exactly where his niece has been and upon identifying the kidnappers Rambo walks into an obvious trap. He makes a connection with an independent journalist (Paz Vega) reporting on human trafficking but nothing ever comes of it, even when Rambo appears at her door pleading for help.
Bottom Line: Rambo: Last Blood is a disappointing conclusion to this series. It bears almost no resemblance to the other films and even as a self-contained adventure the movie is a mess. This character and his fans deserved better.
Episode: #768 (September 29, 2019)