Having lived nearly a full life in war, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is finally having a peaceful life. The war veteran passes the days on his family ranch along with old friend Maria and her granddaughter, Gabriela (Yvette Monreal). Considering Gabriela as an adopted daughter, Rambo finds himself having to venture to Mexico when the teenager goes missing while looking for her long lost father. After Rambo fails to rescue Gabriela from the cartel, his failure sets off a chain reaction of devastating events. Events that will force Rambo to revisit his violent past once again.
Sometimes, some iconic characters need to stop coming back before it’s too late. John McClane, The Terminator, Indiana Jones, they’re all examples of iconic characters with an immortal beloved like status with audiences but then cause varying degrees of damage to their legacy with each unwanted return.
Sure, we get excited about a return, but we most often get disappointed by the result; so much that we pretend that certain films never happened in the first place.
John Rambo, thanks to his fifth outing Last Blood, is yet another character’s legacy tainted. But then, you could argue that the previous three sequels to the original film sapped away the goodwill appeal of this tragic war veteran. Myself, Jason Freeman and Christian R. Allan have discussed on our Stallone focused episode of Trivial Titans being engrossed First Blood more to do with Rambo the character and less the high amount of hyper-violence the seemingly indestructible soldier causes.
It’s that type of shocking violence, not character, that has increasingly become the focus of Rambo’s cinematic outings. Last Blood is no exception, and the film horrifically misjudges the need to embrace shock value once more. Last Blood’s plot is not particularly original, fresh or surprising. Rambo trying to find and bring home his adopted daughter takes a lot of its ideas from Taken and all the Taken clones out there. This film decides to add more violence and abuse. The peak of this being the villains’ grand decision to mistreat Rambo’s family member even more because Rambo just wanted to take her home. It’s not a pretty story.
It’s this element of the film where my real issue lies. It is the need for Last Blood to be extreme in its unpleasantness to inflict yet another horrific personal tragedy to John Rambo. You could argue that since Rambo was born in horrible environments like Vietnam, these are the environments he must exist to exist as a cinematic character. I’m sure there were likely better ways to get him into a fight than just fighting stereotypical and faceless Mexican gangs. Even Stallone’s script for Homefront – which may have been the next Rambo story before being handed to Jason Statham – could have done a better job.
Last Blood is also very sparse in its action sequences, the big set-piece front and centre in the trailers being the showdown on the ranch between Rambo and The Cartel. Earning its 18 certificate, the action itself is similar to the unrelenting carnage of the previous instalment. Fire, explosions, limbs being hacked off, heads rolling, people getting impaled. Think home Alone with Rambo tactics. It’s a competent sequence, but like its plot – you know what Rambo is going to do to pretty much everyone who dares trespass on his ranch. Right down to the final big bad. There’s little room to think that Rambo finally might not make it, it’s all signposted in the build-up to the showdown.
A big sequence like this might have worked better if you feel invested in the story, but this third act is a Rambo’s greatest hits barrage. Once the explosions hit, everything to do with the film, unfortunately, becomes pointless. Rambo does what Rambo excels at, killing bad guys. As long as the bad guys get their comeuppance, everything is alright in action land. It feels after so many films; we’re more interested in the violence Rambo can unleash than the character. It is the direct opposite of how First Blood presents the character. His original outing made us care more about the forgotten soldier than the amount of pain he could inflict. That focus on Rambo, the human being, isn’t here with Last Blood. Instead, conflict and violence take centre stage while the story, plot, character get discarded.
After everything that the character has gone through such as fighting in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Burma you’d think Rambo would at least get a triumphant end. An ending that lets him know that he’s finally won. Something that heart-wrenching breakdown at the end of First Blood deserved.
When the credits roll on Last Blood, I can’t help but think that just like Rambo, we all lost.
Rambo: Last Blood is at cinemas nationwide now.
Fancy reliving some of the previous Rambo movies? They’re all available on DVD, Blu-Ray and even 4K! Hit the nice Amazon links below.
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