Directed by: #AdrianGrunberg
Last Blood couldn’t be a more appropriate subtitle for a garishly brash sequel that offers nothing but testosterone infused uber-violence as a substitute for good storytelling. While the Rambo series has rarely claimed subtlety as a strong suit, the fifth instalment indulges in new levels of pointless brutality, revelling in every overly gory kill with a childlike glee. Gone are any notions of poignant political commentary that made 1982’s First Blood compelling; you can scarcely imagine two films less alike in tone and substance.
Even 2008’s Rambo, with its infamously high body count managed to bring an appropriate modicum of respect, allowing us to believe that we were indeed following the same soldier who brought a town to a standstill with almost no fatalities. 2019 John Rambo could give Michael Myers a run for his money as he tears through hordes of stereotypical baddies, hammering genitalia and snapping bones with a disturbing sadism.
After decades of drifting through continents, a seventy-three-year-old Rambo has finally returned to the US; Arizona to be precise. Living with surrogate daughter Gabriela and her Grandmother, the three enjoy a peaceful existence on a laughably idyllic ranch. However, when Gabriela crosses the border to Mexico to find her father, all hell breaks loose, as well as any semblance of coherent storytelling, transforming the narrative into a bizarre blend of Taken and Home Alone. Perhaps the latter is a stretch, but the ‘setting the traps’ montage does offer one of the film’s few truly enjoyable moments. Last Blood also boasts a great score, as its poor dialogue and obtuse action are at least supported by Brian Tyler’s fantastic orchestrations. While far removed from the bombastic, heroic horns of Jerry Goldsmith’s work on First Blood, Tyler provides a subdued, melancholy ambience that occasionally pays homage to prior leitmotifs; a welcome relief from the chaos.
There’s an oxymoronic quality to the muddled script as it tries to balance a story of familial tragedy while simultaneously keeping the ‘one-man army’ element of the character alive with a dense revenge plot characterised by a high mortality rate. The brutish dialogue doesn’t help, particularly when Rambo threatens to murder a (admittedly irritating) teenage girl; a ‘true hero.’ The notion to take the character back to his urban roots, however, is an interesting one. With care and an introspective script, it could’ve taken both he and Stallone full circle, to a simpler time where tension was based on rising stakes, rather than number of organs evacuated. As is, the setting does nothing but promote a disturbingly stereotypical view of Mexico. The decision to present the city as a hell hole and characterise all Mexicans (bar one) as disturbed, sadistic drug addicts is baffling at best and grievously insulting at worst.
There’s little to enjoy in Stallone’s determined, yet dull fifth turn as the title character, not helped by the boorish dialogue, co-written by the man himself. Despite decades of history and four prior films, Rambo is so far removed from his initial characterisation that even aligning with him as an empathetic protagonist proves problematic. Stallone has turned this once three-dimensional, complex character into a pastiche of himself, more akin to Charlie Sheen in Hot Shots! Part Deux. The missing in action mullet and bandana must be to blame. Newcomer Yvette Monreal provides the closest thing to a stand out performance as Gabriela, but due to her rapid introduction and the surprisingly short 100-minute runtime, we fail to properly invest in her. It also quickly becomes clear that she exists merely as a plot device to keep Rambo’s psychotic rampage going. This transparent motivation gives the film a disingenuous tone and it’s difficult to understand what the intended core message is, other than ‘Mexico is bad’, apparently.
If there’s one thing a Rambo film should execute well, it’s the action. Mercifully, the climax is at least gory and fast paced enough to be mindlessly enjoyable. The gritty violence is beyond unnecessary and more comparable to the horrific intensity of a Saw film in places. This does in turn make the finale boisterously entertaining, in the same way that senselessly smashing a television provides momentary empty gratification. The supporting editing is generally acceptable though rarely inspiring. Scenes such as an early fight which utilises a point of view camera show creativity, though the action is generally dull and shockingly by the numbers.
To review, Rambo: Last Blood sends the series out with a disappointing absence of fervour; If First Blood was a wartime explosion, this is a cheap firework. In similar circumstances to action brethren Die Hard, the fifth instalment fails to understand the complexities of its source material, instead throwing as much gratuitous action at the blood-soaked wall, sacrificing compelling characters, dialogue, and a coherent narrative as a result. Last Blood strips the series of subtlety, social relevance, and pathos, thrusting it into its welcome grave.
Where Rambo (4) felt like renewal, Last Blood is unnecessary and ultimately harmful to the legacy of the character. If this is to be the last Rambo, it’s sad to see such a beloved series conclude in a tirade of barbaric senselessness and toxic masculinity. First Blood was an analysis of the very real and very harmful effects of the Vietnam war on those who served and it will always remain a classic. Last Blood is an analysis of when a film series should have the courtesy to die and will be in the supermarket bargain bins before Christmas. John Rambo, despite becoming more of a caricature with each increasingly silly sequel, deserved to be discharged with more dignity. This time, it’s for the best he stays retired.