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While Sylvester Stallone made the word Rambo synonymous with tough guy action in the 1980s, it's been a long time since he first made the character famous. In fact, it's been over a decade since the last Rambo movie, which itself came two decades before its predecessor. Culture, attitudes, and movies themselves have all changed a lot in that time. I'm not sure anybody was dying for another Rambo movie in 2019, and after having seen Rambo: Last Blood I'm still not sure exactly who this movie is for.
It's been 10 years since the events of Rambo, at the end of which, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) returned to his family's home in Arizona. We learn as Rambo: Last Blood opens that while on the family ranch, he met Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal).
The three of them have lived together on the Rambo ranch where John trains horses and he's become a surrogate father to Gabrielle. Rambo appears mostly at peace, though John's constructed a series of tunnels beneath the property where he keeps a pretty significant arsenal, because he is Rambo, after all.
Gabrielle is about to leave for college, but before she does, she wants to talk with her absent biological father, who she's tracked down in Mexico. Unfortunately, the trip across the border goes sideways, and Gabrielle ends up in some serious trouble. When Rambo learns what has happened, he goes in to rescue Gabrielle, and you can probably guess where things go from there.
I'd tell you more about the story, and the characters, but there really isn't much to say. Everybody in the film is either a good guy or a bad guy. You can tell which are being crafted as the bad guys because they do bad guy things. The good guys are the characters that don't do bad guy things. If that's too complicated, there's an even easier way to tell the difference. All the bad guys live south of the U.S./Mexico border. The good guys live north. There's no nuance nor is there much character development. Of course, when your movie is barely 90-minutes long, there just isn't enough time to build real characters. There are people to kill!
Rambo movies have certainly never been short on action, but, for better or worse, there's a degree of distance from that violence when it's taking place at the end of a machine gun or a missile being fired from a helicopter. Rambo: Last Blood does not take this approach. While there are certainly plenty of guns, the violence here is mostly up close and personal. Director Adrian Grunberg makes sure you don't miss an ounce of spilled blood. It's visceral and bloody in a way that would feel perfectly at home in an Eli Roth horror movie.
Ultimately, Rambo: Last Blood is a horror movie. It's a violent slasher flick of the first order, except that in this case, the audience is supposed to be rooting for the psycho in the hockey mask.
Taken as that, Last Blood succeeds well at what it's trying to do. The finale of the film, which plays like an R-rated Home Alone, has lots of action to satiate one's appetite for such things. There's a nearly endless parade of nameless thugs for John Rambo to kill in new and interesting ways. If you didn't care for the last death scene, wait three seconds.
At 73-years-old, Sylvester Stallone certainly didn't have many years left to make one more Rambo movie, so perhaps Last Blood works as closure for him, but if that's the case, I'm guessing he's the only one. If I didn't know from the title this was supposed to be the last Rambo-oriented movie, nothing other than the montage over the closing credits would have given me that indication.
It's easy enough to say Rambo: Last Blood is a movie "for the fans," but that's a cop out answer and I'm honestly not sure it's even true. Very little about Last Blood feels like a Rambo movie at all. This feels more like a different movie, perhaps Sylvester Stallone's entry in the "old man action movie" genre with blood. This isn't like Liam Neeson's Taken. It's more like Bruce Willis' Death Wish.
Rambo is a man who is lost. His time at war scarred him and he has been suffering ever since. While the sequels to First Blood turned Rambo into an unstoppable super soldier, that undercurrent of damage was always there. Last Blood pays lip service to the idea that John Rambo is still suffering from his time at war, but that's all it is. It tells us how he feels, but we never see it. We never feel it. Rambo himself certainly hasn't come to terms with it. The movie isn't about Rambo, it's about this incredibly violent day he happened to experience once.
I don't know if John Rambo really needed a swan song, but if we're going to give him one, he deserved better than this. The man's a war hero for Christ's sake.