Rambo: Last Blood, 2019.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg.
Starring Sylvester Stallone, 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.
Sly Stallone has seen his fair share of action as his iconic characters. Between appearing as Rocky, Rambo and Barney Ross, he’s clocked up 16 films now. Rambo: Last Blood promises to be the final outing for John J, but lets face it, Stallone has put Rambo to bed before (and Rocky) and still returned.
So, from a series which began way back when with First Blood, we’re up to the fifth outing for Rambo. First Blood is a great film. As the broken down vet with no place to be, Stallone excelled. There was a great conflict between himself and Brian Dennehy’s Sheriff in the film. Two characters who just want to get by and clash, progressing into an out of control situation. There was no hero, no villain, just a sad exaggeration of reality. The point is, among all the trap laying and the action set pieces, First Blood had drama and subtlety and was anchored by three excellent performances (also, Richard Crenna chomping scenery nicely as Colonel Trautman). The film was a success, but the formula henceforth has foregone subtle drama in favour of action. The hero/villain battle is more clearly defined in black and white. The first two sequels were 80’s cheese. Rambo 4 then opted for a more gritty, gruesome and dour take on modern Rambo. It teased some moments of character again, and it’s actually a decent film until the final third gets relentless and repetitive.
Well, how does Last Blood stack up? Rambo has to delve across the border into Mexico to rescue his ‘niece’ from sex traffickers. In what has been described as something like a Pro-Trump campaign video gone feature length, the timing of a villainous Mexican backdrop isn’t the best, but in truth that side of it isn’t quite as bad as being made out. The villains are so undefined and underdeveloped that they’re barely allowed to adhere to too many xenophobic cliches, plus the overriding point in the film, driven home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, is that the whole world is shit…whether Rambo is in Russia, Burma, Slough or Mexico…it’s all shit.
The major problem for this film, which runs constant through Millennium Films back catalogue, is that the whole thing feels 10-20 years out of date. The script is way too old hat. It’s Taken coming well past the point that the Taken formula (which wasn’t new) became boring. The Mexican border cross back drop is also, as we know, just not sensitively timed (and we’re all very sensitive these days it seems). The other major issue is the total hammer handed approach to every piece of drama, which is as violently excessive as the blood letting violence itself. Lines of dialogue are awful as Stallone, as sincere and intense as you expect from him as Rambo, occasionally comes off as awkward as he growls his way through lines right out of the text screen from an 8-Bit action war game. Paz Vega, an amazing actress, is wasted in a role that is ham-handedly wedged in for no other purpose than to propel the ‘plot’ forward. It’s a tragic waste of talent and would fail the Bechdel test double the speed of any Chuck Norris film you could pluck out for judgement. It’s just all so clumsy.
I had hopes this might deliver on an old school promise that Stallone has championed since last bringing John J back and the trailers looked very promising. In some regards it does, but without the subtlety you’d expect from something that could have evoked First Blood more. The film moves incredibly slow too for an 89 minute actioner, only coming to life in the final 15 minutes of inventively gruesome offings as Rambo takes out an army of Mexican drug dealers in the underground tunnels beneath his farm (yeah…that whole point was a little goofy and as lumberheaded a plot point as the rest). Ultimately between Sly and Avi Lerner’s grip on the film (and thye have ‘complex’ relationship that isn’t hidden from public record), we’re left with conflicting star and producer visions and a complete lack of direction from Grunberg, who wouldn’t be the first to sink back into the shadows of a director’s seat working with Stallone/Lerner. Given the fine job he did in How I Spent My Summer Vacation, that is a shame.
Overall, this is a disappointing entry which is tiresomely horrible, needlessly dour and bereft of any subtlety. Rambo deserves a better send off (and a pretty nice ending in the last instalment is thus undone by this entry) and the only saving grace here is some imaginative and comical (not intentional I might add) violence.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ / Movie ★ ★
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has several features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019/2020 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/