“In a way, it was funny, a seventy-two-year-old man setting the pace, running them all into the ground.” This quote from David Morrell’s original novel First Blood, though referring to a different character, has become strangely prophetic and frighteningly accurate when watching a 72-year-old Sylvester Stallone outlast, outshoot, and outslice the bad guys in Rambo: Last Blood. Though I’ve never been more curious to know if First Blood‘s original ending may have been a greater mercy for the franchise.
Aging Vietnam vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has taken over his father’s horse ranch in Arizona. Helping out on the ranch are two women, Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her teenage granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who Rambo has come to think of as family. Gabrielle is determined to go to Mexico to confront the father who abandoned her after her mother died, but Rambo and Maria warn against this. Gabrielle defies them and goes anyway, but never makes it back home. So Rambo heads to Mexico in search of his proxy daughter.
There have been very few female characters in the Rambo franchise, so Last Blood almost feels like it’s making up for that. Unfortunately, they’re relegated to expository, two-faced, and damsel-in-distress roles. Pill-popping Rambo takes center stage of course, and I don’t care how tough he is at 72, he looks like a grandpa here. The story is as predictable as can be. Telling someone not to go to a place guarantees they will go to that place. It was forgivable in previous entries because it gave Rambo an excuse to blow up hundreds of bad guys while we cheered him on. But this is not a one-man army movie by any means. It plays more like a dark and nasty detective thriller as Rambo searches for clues, interrogates suspects, and watches the bad guys from the shadows. Had this been a totally original non-Rambo movie, it may have worked (albeit as a Taken rip-off). But as the 5th entry in a 37-year-old action franchise about a lethally PTSD Vietnam War veteran struggling to find his place in the world, it just doesn’t fit.
Mexico: the most dangerous place on Earth, or so this movie would have you believe. To say Last Blood is racially and culturally insensitive would be an understatement. You can almost hear the off-camera MAGA crowd chanting “BUILD! THE! WALL!” Every location in Mexico is filthy and populated by rough-looking thugs. Every friend or estranged family member is selfish and disloyal to the highest degree. Enter the old white guy who somehow snuck his big killing knife across the border. The Rambo movies have always had thin plots but there was always an underlying message, whether it was how Vietnam veterans are mistreated back home, or some horrible atrocity going on half a world away. Last Blood has no such message. It tries to bombard you with Gabrielle’s innocence and Rambo’s need for a family, but it all comes off as forced sympathy. The tone is vulgar and dispiriting throughout, and takes an unexpectedly darker turn halfway through that motivates Rambo to do what he does best. There are still some enjoyable moments, but you will have to suffer greatly for them.
In a way, it’s funny: a seventy-two-year-old man setting the pace and running them all into the ground (literally). Almost all of the action is saved for the explosive and brutal climax, making all that came before feel like an hour-long plot device. Rambo setting up traps for his enemies is a nice callback to the nighttime woods scenes in First Blood, but it’s all exploitation with no substance, something the shallow script was desperately trying to achieve to no avail. With few characters and locations, and at a speedy 89 minutes, this feels like the smallest entry in the franchise, and more of a bad weekend for Rambo compared to his more war-like adventures. Rambo: Last Blood is as generic and unoriginal as a movie can be, saved only by its glorified ultra-violence in later scenes. Rambo has killed a lot of people, but I must say, I’ve never seen him shoot so many corpses before. When dead bodies aren’t even safe, Rambo has officially run out of things to kill. If this formulaic revenge thriller is Stallone’s idea of a proper sendoff for the character, then maybe Trautman should have pulled the trigger after all.
2 out of 5