“Rambo: Last Blood won’t win any Oscars or break any new ground but it will entertain the masses for its 90 minutes running time”
Sylvester Stallone’s iconic Vietnam veteran has returned one (Final?) time in ‘Rambo: Last Blood‘. After all the hype, all the posters and all the trailers, I was finally able to sit in a darkened movie theatre and see the film I’ve been waiting all summer for. There’s nothing I enjoy better than on a Saturday late night when there’s nothing on TV than to turn the lights off, grab a drink and a snack and put on a classic 1980s action movie. ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II‘ always makes a monthly appearance. There’s just something about the film that makes it a must-watch in any 1980s action movie night. The original ‘First Blood‘ and ‘Rambo III‘ do make an appearance from time to time but nothing beats the flag-waving excess of the second film. And hearing Jerry Goldsmith’s scores erupting from my home cinema speakers make it a completely satisfying throwback evening to my younger days. So with this in mind, I eagerly awaited what violence and mayhem Rambo would bring this time around.
Rambo: Last Blood | Lionsgate
Let’s get this out of the way early, ‘Rambo: Last Blood‘ is most certainly NOT the best Rambo film of them all. Is it enjoyable? Yes, it is. Is it violent? Incredibly so. Did the film need to be made? Not in the slightest. To my mind, the ending to the fourth entry, ‘Rambo‘ was the perfect ending for the character and he should have been left there. This film feels like a tacked-on extra ending, one that is enjoyable but ultimately, was unnecessary. How would I describe the film? We will come to that later. The film is a slow burn with an incredibly violent payoff but in between, we get some emotion mixed in with the nastiness and sprinkled with a nasty tasting bout of stereotypical bashing of the villains and their country, in this case, Mexico. Ok, the Mexican drug and human sex trafficking cartels are vile and evil. Yes, they are a scar on the face of the Mexican people. But here they are depicted as nothing but cartoon, cardboard, standard cannon fodder. I agree that most of what we see being visited on the helpless female victims is almost certainly accurate but you would expect the villains to shown as human instead of blank, robotic, standard bad guys.
The film opens in Arizona. John Rambo has finally come home. He is living in peaceful retirement on his family ranch, tending, raising and riding horses. He is suffering from PTSD and needs to take tablets every time he gets a flashback. For some unknown reason which is never explained, he has built a system of tunnels under his property. Could this be to offset his mind in an attempt to reconcile with his past? Who Knows? This is simply explained away with a throwaway comment by John’s ‘Niece’, Gabriella says she’s told her friends that ‘He likes to dig’. John lives on his ranch with his old friend, Maria Beltran, who is Gabriella’s grandmother. Maria takes care of John, cooking his meals, cleaning his home and generally being what Rambo has always needed, a friend who will be there for him and to keep him in check. Maria is a sassy woman, one that is a highlight of the film. While Rambo has the rage and violence in him, Maria has the guts, sass and resolve to be his equal almost. The way Stallone and actress Adriana Barraza play off each other in these early scenes is quite amusing and leads us down the path of calmness before the storm breaks. It shows Rambo in a human light, one we have never seen him in before. And it’s very refreshing.
Gabriella’s friend has found out the location of Gabriella’s absentee father, who abandoned her and her mother years previous down in Mexico. Gabriella naturally wants to go down and get the answers from her father face to face, something Rambo and Maria don’t want her to do, knowing the dangers that lurk down there and fearing that Gabriella’s heart will be ripped out by what her father may say to her. Both try and appeal to Gabriella and she appears to listen to them. Of course, she ignores their wishes and goes down to Mexico to see her father. When she first sees him, he seems nice and friendly and pleased to see her but then the truth and his true colours are exposed, leaving Gabriella devastated. Her friend suggests going to a club to take her mind off things. Gabriella decides to go with her whereupon she is drugged and abducted.
Back in Arizona, Maria finds out her granddaughter went to Mexico and has disappeared. She runs out to tell Rambo what has happened. Rambo immediately jumps in his truck and goes to Mexico himself to track her down and bring her home. His first port of call is to Gabriella’s father. So far, we have seen Rambo as calm and collected than we have ever seen him. As soon as Gabriella’s father opens the door to him, the real Rambo is revealed once again, the warrior, the soldier, now the adopted father as his violent side is once again dragged into the light. Tracking down his adopted daughter’s friend and discovering she played a part in Gabriella’s disappearance, Rambo forces her to take him to the club from where she vanished from, bringing him up close and personal to El Flako, the man who drugged Gabriella’s drink. Following him outside, Rambo grabs him and tortures him to discover where his adopted daughter is. Following Rambo is a mysterious female, Carmen. Rambo goes to Gabriella’s supposed location only to find the heads of the human trafficking cartel, brothers Hugo and Victor Martinez waiting for him with loads of the cartel members in reserve. Rambo is violently assaulted and is scarred by his own knife, with Hugo telling him Gabriella will be scarred the same way and mistreated for Rambo’s actions.
Leaving him on the street broken and bleeding, Rambo is helped by Carmen, who reveals herself to be an independent journalist. She has been investigating the Martinez brothers and their cartel due to the fact of them abducting and murdering her sister. Rambo is treated by Carmen until he regains some semblance of strength. Filling him in on all she can tell him about the cartel and the brothers, Rambo discovers the location of the brothel Gabriella is being held in. Rambo poses as a customer to gain entry and then proceeds to viciously murder the cartel members inside using a hammer. Although now able to escape, the women inside all refuse to leave, fearing the cartel will hunt them down and murder them all in turn. Rambo finds Gabriella and carries her from the brothel, discovering the cartel has been injecting her with drugs. Placing her in his truck, Rambo leaves Mexico with his adopted daughter by his side. And on the way home, tragedy strikes Rambo again.
You can guess the rest. Once again, Rambo must prepare for war and to exact a terrible and violent revenge. Some of what has transpired up to this point reminded me very much of ‘Rambo II‘ and the death of Co. The film doesn’t rush into things, it takes its time to set up the storyline, much to its credit. However, it’s NOT a Rambo film. The film feels like exactly what it will become, a setup and basis for violence that will explode later on. You could call it a Rambo drama up until two-thirds of the way through the film. And sadly, it feels empty. We need to be invested in these characters, we need to emphasise with them and we don’t get the feeling here. They all seem, with the exception of Maria, to be there just to herd the story along to its inevitable conclusion. While we see Rambo and Maria’s feelings and can actually patch in with them and emphasise with them, the rest of the cast is not given the chance to impress us. In a completely thankless role, Paz Vega as Carmen is completely wasted. Her character could have been so much more but she has little more than a cameo role, a bit of glue to hold the pieces of the plot together. The film belongs to Stallone and Adriana Barraza, the rest of the assembled don’t get a chance to shine in reality.
The score by Brian Tyler is adequate enough. Most of it is recycled and rescored from his score to ‘Rambo‘. It fits the film well in some respects but it makes a fatal error, the one thing you can’t do in a Rambo film. While some of the classic Jerry Goldsmith cues are present here, most from ‘First Blood‘ to be fair, not once do we get that main thing, the one thing the film needs. Not once do we get that incredible blast of the main theme that is sorely lacking here. Tyler used that blast to great effect at the climax of ‘Rambo‘, a fist-pumping, almost perfect moment where the main villain is disembowelled. The film has the perfect opportunity to use the blast at the climax of this film only to let us down with its absence. The score, though using some of the classic themes, has more in line with Tyler’s ‘Expendables‘ scores than with a Rambo movie. And is a huge missed chance to end the series on a high note musically wise.
Stallone gives his all as John Rambo. We have tracked his journey ever since 1982 and this ‘Final’ film brings the character to a close. Or so you would think. I’m not going into spoiler territory here but all I will say is when the final credits start to roll, stay in your seat. Stay through the montage of classic shots from the ‘Rambo‘ films gone by and you will get to the true ending before the screen fades to black. Otherwise, you will get the same idea of the ending of those who left before the end montage. Stallone shows us a Rambo that is finally at peace. A man who’s tired of war and conflict and has finally gotten what he desires. Finally, there’s no one to judge him, no one to cause him pain and anger. He has a sort of family that he will protect as any man would but, and to our great shock, he even SMILES! Rambo with a smile on his face, enjoying life? We would never have thought it possible. Stallone has breathed real life and feeling into the character for 37 years but this is the first time we have ever witnessed Rambo to be human, to have real feelings. Even though we know it won’t last, we are happy to see him like this.
The third act is what we have all come to see however and it doesn’t disappoint. The level of blood, gore and violence in the film most certainly not for the faint-hearted or the queasy. Even for a hardened viewer like me, I actually found myself wincing at some of what transpires here. Whether it’s a heavy hammer blow to the head or groin, a shot to the head or a decapitation, some of the violence portrayed is brutal and nasty. Adding in various explosions to the mix and you can understand why the film has received a hard R rating in the States. The way the violence is portrayed and filmed keeps the film in line with the previous entry to the saga, much to the film’s credit. The film as a whole, though unneeded, is entertaining enough without breaking any new ground or adding anything of real substance to the saga. I enjoyed it but did leave with a feeling that it could have been so much more. Perhaps some of what would have made the film better ended up on the cutting room floor to make way for a crammed 90-minute movie. If this turns out to be the case, we can only hope for an extended version when the film makes its bow on home entertainment early next year.
At the start of this review, I would reveal what the film is like. And here it is. The film is a mix of the ‘Taken‘ movies added with Stallone’s version of a ‘Friday the 13th‘ film. Yes, despite how that sounds, it really is a mixture like that. The first, almost two-thirds of the film are ‘Rambo meets Taken‘ and then we enter ‘Rambo’s Friday The 13th massacre‘ territory. As dumb as it sounds, it actually, for the most part, works. The end battle is almost like a classic stalk and slash movie and to a certain extent, it really is. We know Rambo can be violent but never like this. Here he stalks his prey without a shred of mercy left in his body. And although we don’t get ‘IT Chapter Two‘s bathroom stall sequence level of blood, It’s not too far off it.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether you like ‘Rambo’ movies or you don’t. And I do and this one is great fun. It won’t win any Oscars or break any new ground but it will entertain the masses for its 90 minutes running time. And it will, eventually, make it onto my late-night Saturday action movie viewing. Is this really Rambo’s last blood? Only time will tell. If it is, then the character hasn’t gone out the way we planned or expected. He does deserve better and more but I doubt both he or we will get it. Even though I liked the film and the character doesn’t go out with a whimper per se, he certainly doesn’t go out with the bang he deserves. And that could be Rambo’s ultimate tragedy.
Until next time.
Rambo: Last Blood is distributed by Lionsgate and is playing in cinemas now.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!