Rambo: Last Blood, 2019.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg.
Starring Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim, Joaquín Cosío, and Oscar Jaenada.
Rambo must confront his past and unearth his ruthless combat skills to exact revenge in a final mission.
Sylvester Stallone sure has had a tough time saying farewell to his most beloved movie icons; Rocky Balboa has signalled the off-ramp in every single one of his last four movies, and 2008’s Rambo seemed like it gave Sly’s PTSD-addled Vietnam vet a fittingly circuitous send-off.
But it was relatively easy to be tantalised by the idea behind Rambo: Last Blood, which Stallone likened to the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men pre-release. With not a traditional warzone in sight, John Rambo (Stallone) acting as the custodian to his (presumably deceased) father’s Arizona ranch and a wealth of dusty vistas on offer, this truly had the potential to be a powerful – if unnecessary – coda to the series.
In reality, Last Blood‘s style and tone are closer to a Logan or Gran Torino, if fed through the chintzy glorified-VOD sausage factory. Far from the moody, Unforgiven-lite meditation on violence and revenge it could have been, the fifth Rambo too often smacks of a generic studio thriller with a familiar franchise label slapped on it.
11 years after Rambo returned home from Thailand, he’s living a contented(ish) existence on his ranch with his “niece” Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) and her mother Maria (Adriana Barraza). But when Gabrielle visits Mexico in the hope of reconnecting with her estranged father, she ends up drugged and sold into a sex trafficking ring. Naturally, it’s all up to a pension-age Rambo to get her back.
Right from its very first scene, Last Blood doesn’t feel quite right. There’s an urgent perfunctoriness to the dialogues, exposition-heavy as they are, to quickly establish Rambo’s relation to Gabrielle and race through her abduction, rather than embracing the western tradition of a more placid storytelling mode.
It doesn’t help that the narrative is undermined by gutter-level characterisation at every avenue not ending with John Rambo. Gabrielle, for instance, feels less like an actual character than she does an instigating prop intended solely to kickstart 60-or-so minutes of blood-splattered revenge.
More bizarre is the presence of Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega), a journalist who briefly encounters Rambo during his rescue mission, a character so gossamer-thin it’s easy to believe she was hurriedly shoehorned in during last-minute reshoots, if only to pad the runtime out to scarcely feature length (the film’s runtime sans-credits is just 79 minutes). You might reasonably expect Delgado to join Rambo during his epic third-act rampage, yet she ends up disappearing from the film as abruptly as she enters it.
Then there’s the Bad Guys aka the Martinez brothers (Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Óscar Jaenada), a pair of impossibly generic gangster antagonists so transparent as to barely exist, and whose inevitable comeuppance at Rambo’s hand feels only mildly more eventful than that of the dozens of rent-a-goons he slaughters in the final 20 minutes.
But at least the film doesn’t ruin the title character himself, who is again brought to life with a compellingly heightened decrepitude by Stallone, even if our seventy-something John Rambo is certainly a far more capable hero than your average OAP.
But Stallone clearly has a lot of love left for the character, and does his level-best to ensure his through-line is true to what came before. Sly proudly bares his creased face in every close-up director Adrian Grunberg is willing to provide, and is the film’s sole bearer of anything approaching honest-to-God humanity.
Yet it’s tough to escape the overall feeling that what should be an affecting, poignant final chapter for the series feels like any other movie – or worse still, any direct-to-VOD thriller Sly has been lending his name and face to lately. The first two acts in particular are fired through with such a casual, unfussed ordinariness that, despite the new setting, there’s very little narrative or character-based meat for anyone to chew on.
Seeing Sly abandon the wilderness to the big city to rescue his cute niece could be cribbed from any one of the numerous Taken knock-offs piped into digital platforms every week, and even Stallone’s self-penned script rarely musters more than generic placeholder dialogue or incidents.
Act three tries somewhat harder with one visceral dramatic moment so good it’s probably embarrassed to be in the movie, and of course, the inevitable murder-a-thon finale. Taking more than a few cues from both Home Alone and Skyfall, Rambo’s final “home defense” showdown with Martinez’s endless army of faceless mooks delivers a glorified supercut of excessively creative killing, even if Grunberg spoils a lot of the fun due to incomprehensible editing choices, distracting CGI gore and poor lighting conditions.
If you were hoping for a climax that might hold a candle to the all-timer ending of 2008’s Rambo, prepare to be bitterly disappointed. If nothing else, it’s persuasive proof that Stallone himself, who helmed that film, probably should’ve been behind the camera for what is apparently the final Rambo outing. But even then, Stallone’s already talked-up the possibility of a sixth go-around (Last Blood: Part II?), so who knows?
Disappointingly generic and technically roughshod, Last Blood satisfies neither as a character drama nor a gonzo action thriller, seemingly ending the Rambo franchise on a cobbled-together whimper.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.