Last Blood is an exercise in excessively gory violence and dubious political action moviemaking that adds little of value to the Rambo property.
As much as the Rambo movies have become known for their stereotyping and gratuitous violence, they started off with a more significant purpose. Yes, 1982's First Blood was a macho '80s action movie, but it also told the story of a Vietnam War veteran with PTSD searching for a home in a country that (from his point of view) resented his continued existence. From there, however, the franchise simultaneously doubled-down on its bloody spectacle while trying to be apolitical about stories of Rambo fighting during the Cold War or rescuing Christian missionaries kidnapped overseas. Suffice it to say, that did not work. The supposedly final Rambo film, Rambo: Last Blood, simply carries on with that tradition to predictably underwhelming results. Last Blood is an exercise in excessively gory violence and dubious political action moviemaking that adds little of value to the Rambo property.
Last Blood picks up with John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) having spent the last eleven years living on his (now, deceased) father's ranch in Arizona. Although he's still traumatized by his time at war, John has found peace caring for his horses and serving as a surrogate parent to Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), a young woman with a dark history of her own. Against John and her grandma Maria's (Adriana Barraza) wishes, Gabrielle decides to travel to Mexico to visit her estranged father, in the hope of finding some closure. But in doing so, she ends up being captured by a drug cartel that traffics in sex slaves, as headed by the cold-blooded Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor Martinez (Óscar Jaenada). With no one to turn to for help, John must go to war one more time to try and save Gabrielle, and make the Martinez brothers pay for what they've done.
If that summary for Rambo: Last Blood - which Stallone co-wrote with Matt Cirulnick (Absentia) based on a screen story that Sly and Dan Gordon (The Hurricane) are credited for - sounds a bit like "Taken, but featuring Rambo", it's because that's basically what Last Blood is. But in addition to having a fairly derivative plot, the film manages to be even more brazenly xenophobic than either Liam Neeson's hit thriller or the Rambo sequels before it. Stallone has argued that the Rambo films aren't meant to be political statements, but there's no ignoring the unsettling political overtones (intended or not) of a movie like Last Blood, where John is essentially presented as being an extremely deadly white savior who's there to rescue his Latina surrogate daughter from blood-thirsty Mexicans. It would be one thing if Last Blood had any vested interest in shining a light on the victims of Mexican cartel violence and human trafficking (much less, how security on the U.S.-Mexico border actually works), but that's not so much the case.
Instead, characters like Gabrielle and Maria only really exist as an excuse to justify John going off to slay a whole lot of people once again. Rambo: Last Blood does take some time early on to try and develop Gabrielle and John's relationship, but their bonding scenes are hampered by wooden dialogue and Monreal and Stallone's lack of chemistry. The film doesn't offer much in the way of resolution to John's arc from the previous Rambo movies either; by the end, it's not clear what he gained from his journey during Last Blood that he didn't get from 2008's Rambo. With no real substance to sink his teeth into as an actor, Stallone's performance suffers for it, as do those from his cast mates. The supporting players in Last Blood may have names, but they're so thinly sketeched that they might as well be referred to as "Bad Guy #1 & #2" or (in the case of Paz Vegas' Mexican journalist Carmen Delgado) "Lady With Tragic Backstory Who Helps John".
There are a few things that Rambo: Last Blood gets right, however, starting with its narrative momentum. The film flies on by and, if anything, feels overly rushed, as though it was edited down to size from a longer cut. Meanwhile, the scenes (including, one particularly horrifying montage) where Gabrielle and other kidnapped women are brutalized by the cartel are genuinely disturbing - though, they clash tonally with the far more ridiculously grotesque moments of John butchering people that follow in the movie's second half. Last Blood has something of a cheap look overall, especially when director Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo) attempts to use uncomfortably close-up shots to heighten the dramatic moments. Even so, he finds his filmmaking rhythm once the fighting kicks in during an absurdly splattery third act that comes across less like John using his guerrilla combat skills and more like Home Alone crossed with a Saw movie.
Reportedly, Stallone and Rambo creator David Morrell initially came up with a tale for Last Blood that was closer to a soulful and heart-wrenching story of an aging man yearning to break free of his violent existence (a la Unforgiven, No Country for Old Men, Logan). Sadly, the far pulpier and otherwise exploitative version that got green-lit is a far cry from that, and mostly comes off as a tone-deaf attempt to not only keep the Rambo franchise going, but also make it socially relevant. Those who are just in it for the mindless violence will get their fix from Last Blood, but it's still disappointing. After starting off as a pop genre movie series with a conscience, bloodshed is pretty much all that Rambo and his films have going for them at this point.
Rambo: Last Blood is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 89 minutes long and is rated R for strong graphic violence, grisly images, drug use and language.
- Rambo 5: Last Blood (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019