If you’re looking for a review written by the ultimate diehard fan of Stallone’s ‘80s action hero John Rambo, someone who has seen every movie a dozen times on his own personal Blu-ray collection, then you’re probably reading the wrong review. To be honest, I haven’t even seen 2008’s Rambodespite having had 11 years to do so, but after watching Rambo: Last Blood,I probably didn’t miss very much.
Sylvester Stallone’s Vietnam vet John Rambo is now well-domesticated, living on his horse ranch with his teen niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) and another woman, played by Adriana Barraza, who we assume to be a maid or housekeeper. Gabrielle’s real father left when she was young, but she’s heard from a friend in Mexico that he’s been found, so she heads down to Mexico alone, where she gets into serious trouble. Of course, Rambo follows her down, falls foul of the Mexican crime lords that have taken Gabrielle, all leading to one of those big climaxes with Rambo slaughtering all when they come back to his ranch to kill him.
Setting aside that this sort of revenge-thriller has been done much better since Rambo’s heyday in the ‘80s, Rambo: Last Blood at least starts out as if it’s meant to be more of a dramatic character piece exploring what it’s like to be John Rambo in his days of retirement. The problem with the film’s set-up is that it’s so boring and full of melodrama and overacting you wonder if this really is the Rambo of old or another attempt by Stallone to keep the money train rolling long past his prime. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
Monreal is a fine young actress that has the misfortune of not being given very much to do once she gets to Mexico and is spurned by her birth father. Her “friend” Jezel takes Gabrielle to a bar where she’s drugged and dragged into a local sex ring, and when her uncle comes to rescue her, things just get worse. I won’t get into the deplorable way Gabrielle is treated in the story, but it guarantees that an already-grim affair doesn’t stand a chance at any sort of happy ending.
The worst infraction by Rambo: Last Blood is that it goes out of its way to make the film’s enemies those “bad Mexicans” we keep hearing our President rant about, giving few of them any personality or character besides just being unrepentant criminals deserving of the way they’re disposed of by Rambo. (Many of them are just doing their job as hired hands.)
Maybe I never got into the whole Rambo franchise, because when Stallone introduced the character back in the ‘80s, it contributed to all the “Rah! Rah! USA!” stuff that was going on under Reagan. Whether on purpose or not, Last Blood does something similar for the racist red hats wanting to “make America great again,” despite the presence of a few underused good Mexicans. One of them, Paz Vega’s journalist Carmen Delgado, serves so little purpose to the story except to fix up Rambo the first time he’s beaten up by the bad guys.
The last act involves Rambo rigging his own ranch up with explosives and booby traps and luring the bad guys back there so he can slaughter them in the most violent and gruesome ways. I imagine one is supposed to root for Rambo with each gory kill, except that he makes it look so easy, there’s absolutely no tension or real conflict. He just kills them one-by-one (or two at a time, in a few cases) leaving the leader for last. When you compare this to the recent Angel Has Fallen, it’s obvious that much of the fault for the film’s blandness falls on director Adrian Gunberg (Get the Gringo) but probably on Stallone himself for co-writing but not directing.
There’s something to say about what First Blood and maybe even it first sequel did in terms of empowering American military vets at a time when they still weren’t getting their due. Last Blood doesn’t have anything to offer except to bum you out, then kill a bunch of people you care so little about that you can’t even muster the enthusiasm to root for their deaths.
Rambo: Last Blood doesn’t just feel dated and quite tone-deaf but also stuck in an era that’s long gone with no need for nostalgia to remind us of it.