John Rambo may have eviscerated his newest army of enemies in Rambo: Last Blood, but he still has the critics to contend with. Last Blood currently has the worst reviews of any movie in the franchise, with many arguing that its hardcore violence doesn't make up for the lack of a compelling storyline for its central character.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg, Rambo: Last Blood is the fifth entry in the movie franchise, following 2008's Rambo, which in turn was released 20 years after Rambo III. The original film, First Blood, was directed by Ted Kotcheff and released in 1982, and remains one of the most highly-praised and influential action movies of all time. First Blood introduced Stallone as Vietnam War veteran John Rambo, whose simple road trip to visit an old friend turned into a nightmare when he unjustly ended up on the wrong side of a small town police force. In that first movie, Rambo waged a one-man war against the cops using techniques he had learned during the war, though he managed to avoid intentionally killing anyone.
He's definitely not quite as restrained in Rambo: Last Blood. The movie finds Rambo living a peaceful life on a ranch when his adopted daughter, Gabrielle, travels to Mexico in the hopes of tracking down her real father. She soon ends up in the hands of a powerful cartel, and Rambo heads down to Mexico on a rescue mission. The movie culminates in Rambo fighting a bloody guerrilla war that earns Rambo: Last Blood a hard R rating. It sounds like the recipe for an entertaining action movie - so why were the critics so disappointed? Here's a sampling of some of the negative reviews of Rambo: Last Blood.
The [final] sequence is Last Blood’s pièce de résistance, and perhaps the only compelling reason the movie has to exist. But it’s also pure, relentless, grimacing punishment at the end of a joyless film, choreographed like a ritual sacrifice. Rambo has always been a monster, but in his old age, he has become something even worse: no fun.
Rambo: Last Blood is riddled with narrative flab, risible speechifying, wild plot conveniences... routine action filmmaking... and a caricatured, xenophobic attitude to Mexicans (it feels like a film designed for the Trump heartland). There’s throwback fun to be had as Rambo lures the goons back to his booby-trapped farmhouse coming on like an 18-certificate Home Alone, but by this time you barely care.
If you were an action movie fan who hates quick cuts and "shaky cam" filming style, then you will hate Last Blood. Most of the action that occurs is blurred and incomprehensible in execution. The action sequences simply show us nameless henchmen, who then have some kind of blurred encounter with the hulking shadow that is Rambo, only to end up in a horrific kill shot that puts this film on the level of gratuitously violent horror films like Saw or Hostel. Logistically, it makes little sense, and cinematically it offers little to no action thrills.
[A] cruel and ugly showcase of xenophobic carnage squeezed into barely 80 minutes and packaged for export... No brutality has been spared against the anonymous platoon of cartel thugs Rambo later decimates. Yes, but they deserve it, one might argue. This is the reductive one-man-against-the-world reasoning by which Rambo has always operated, and I don’t buy it.
Many reviews criticize Rambo: Last Blood for its xenophobia towards Mexicans and the disposable nature of its few female characters - particularly Gabrielle, whose function in the story is mainly just to give Rambo an excuse to go on another killing spree. The third act of the film is generally praised as its strongest, if only because it's where the majority of action takes place, but some critics say that the abundance of gore feels empty and gratuitous without a decent story to support it. Still, other reviewers found something to like about Rambo: Last Blood.
While part of the film offers the expected, unsparingly violent action tropes typical of the series, there’s another aspect to the story, a surprisingly brooding examination of a warrior in winter, a dark story of a berserker who can’t let go, that’s in its own way bleaker and more despairing than we may be expecting.
There’s a lizard-brain thrill to his single-mindedness, and a stab, such as it is, at emotional complexity when Rambo’s killing spree culminates in a literally heartrending gesture. This is followed by a scene set on a sun-dappled country porch that draws equally on the multifaceted mytho-poeticism of John Ford and the jingoistic stupidity of John Wayne circa The Green Berets. That neither sensibility fully overwhelms the other is testament to the Rambo series’s consistently wandering convictions—a muddled ethos worn as proudly as a Purple Heart.
Rambo: Last Blood has a critic score of just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes - the worst of any of the Rambo movies - but interestingly its audience score is a far more robust 84%. If you've seen Last Blood this weekend, let us know in the comments if you agree with the critics, or if you think there's still life in John Rambo yet.