RAMBO: LAST BLOOD. Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim, Joaquín Cosío, Óscar Jaenada. Directed by Adrian Grünberg. 100 minutes. Rated R18+ (High impact violence).
‘Rambo: Last Blood’ is a tonally awkward mishmash of the previous films in Sylvester Stallone’s second biggest franchise-named-after-a-protagonist-beginning-with-“R”, combining the melancholy introspection of ‘First Blood’ with the vicious bloodletting of the next three instalments. While both elements should give some satisfaction to this film’s target demographic (i.e. fans of the ‘Rambo’ franchise and other violent action movies), neither really gets the film’s full attention, leaving this purported finale uncomfortably stranded between two extremes.
After the events of the fourth film, the cleanly titled ‘Rambo’, Vietnam War vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) returned to his childhood home in Arizona. As ‘Last Blood’ begins, he’s still there, managing the modest ranch with his friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her teenage granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal, making a bright film debut despite her limited time onscreen). When he’s not training his horses or maintaining the elaborate network of tunnels crisscrossing beneath his land (Chekhov’s Gun anyone?), Rambo occasionally volunteers his skills as a tracker in local search and rescue operations. One such foray into the woods opens the film, taking full advantage of Stallone’s craggy features to reintroduce Rambo as a rugged, almost mythic figure, not to mention a dab hand in a crisis.
Despite the war still raging in his head – “it’s hard to turn off”, he confides in Gabrielle – our hero appears to finally be at peace. As the saying goes, however, all good things must come to an end; while trying to reconnect with her deadbeat Dad (Marco de la O) in Mexico, Gabrielle is kidnapped by notorious sex traffickers, brothers Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo Martinez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta). Resigned to what he must do to rescue his surrogate daughter, Rambo follows Gabriel’s trail across the border, partnering with independent journalist Carmen (Paz Vega) to enact a daring rescue mission that calls to mind indie actioner ‘You Were Never Really Here’. What that comparison sadly highlights is this movie’s dearth of creative flair, with director Adrian Grünberg mounting his action with what could fairly be described as brusque efficiency.
Other than one gross out moment shortly after Rambo enters Mexico (it turns out that Rambo is familiar with methods of torture that are far less audience-friendly than waterboarding), the ultraviolence that has gradually come to define the ‘Rambo’ series is largely confined to the third act. Seeking revenge for the carnage left in Rambo’s wake, the Martinez cartel crosses the border into Arizona for a deadly showdown on the Rambo family ranch. Despite the obvious similarities of their tunnel-based, border-adjacent third acts, ‘Sicario’ this is not; once the bloodshed begins, the film’s earlier reflective moments immediately seem a world away. Rambo deals out one nasty death after another, using nails, sharpened rebar and magnesium shards to augment his already substantial arsenal, haunting his hapless would-be hunters as a sort of Kevin McCallister-inspired bogeyman.
Despite Stallone and his cowriter Matthew Cirulnick’s morally black and white screenplay, not even the one-note villainy of Rambo’s victims (or more accurately, of their crime bosses) can justify the severity of the suffering that he inflicts upon them. While seeing Stallone’s brooding veteran wearily surrendering to his infamous bloodlust once more initially delivers a perverse rush of pleasure, it quickly loses its attraction. What’s more, viewers would be forgiven for noting the disturbing racial homogeneity of Rambo’s victims and the xenophobic implications of the plot, which hold a particularly grim significance in today’s political climate. By the time the last baddie has been brutally slain, you’d be forgiven for wondering who the real monster is. The fact that clearly no one involved expects the level of consideration required for such a thought says all that you need to know about the kind of movie that ‘Last Blood’ is.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 19.