Movie Review: "Rambo: Last Blood" (2019)
As a reviewer/journalist/author, I have a strong tendency to look at things on a deeper level. My reviews often come off more as essays, and most people seem to like that. Usually there are underlying themes in a film that the creators are trying to get across to the audience. Film can bring light to serious issues. The medium is important, the modern day equivalent of passing stories down orally around the fire.
Guess what? A movie (even one that closes out a franchise) can also be all about the action and the entertainment value and putting a final stamp on a legendary character. There’s no social contract that says a film has a moral responsibility to keep the violence to a minimum or portray certain types of people in a certain light because it’s the politically correct thing to do.
My review of Rambo: Last Blood should be to simply thank Sylvester Stallone. It won’t be just that, though….
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone; Rocky series) is now a certifiable old guy living on the family ranch in Arizona. He’s found a measure of peace in his life, living with his adoptive family- his niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal; Lowriders), and her grandmother, Maria (Adrianna Barraza; Drag Me to Hell). Against the wishes of both Rambo and her grandmother, Gabrielle goes to Mexico to confront her estranged father. She’s taken by sex traffickers and sold into slavery, prompting Rambo to jump in without a plan to save her. After he’s beaten nearly to death by a small army of evil Mexican villains, he’s nursed back to health by an investigative journalist with a stake in bringing them down but named Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega; Sex and Lucía). His mission ultimately fails, and Rambo is left with nothing but hatred in his heart and a need for revenge that can only be satisfied with an insane body count.
Rambo: Last Blood isn’t forwarding a deep message about the state of world affairs. It’s not a cleverly written, tightly plotted example of Oscar-caliber screenwriting. Sure, it’s formulaic to the Nth degree. The only character developed is John Rambo himself. Is that a surprise? It shouldn’t be. It’s all about America’s deadliest war weapon trying to find a measure of peace in life, only to have the one thing he cares about snatched away by an ugly, uncaring, wicked world.
Stallone is in phenomenal shape for his 73 years, and it shows. However, he gets to stretch his legs a little and act more than you might expect in the first couple of acts here. People forget that Stallone is talented, and his portrayal of a Rambo locked inside a world of PTSD and pills is strong stuff. His eyes are haunted now, and his words have more weight. Make no mistake about it, this is a vehicle intended to be driven by Stallone and only Stallone. It’s nowhere near the meaningful material of David Morrell’s 1972 novel or the 1982 original, First Blood, but it’s not entirely superficial, either. Give Sylvester Stallone some credit for fully inhabiting the character of a legitimate American icon of pop culture. He’s in top form here.
And then the violence starts. Holy mother of actual fuck….
The last third of Rambo: Last Blood is a gloriously violent, old-school, unapologetically hardcore action flick. The stabbings have extra crunch. The headshots don’t leave a trace of skull behind. The explosions are pure napalm death. There’s a preparation montage that will make fans of ‘80s action grin from ear to ear as Rambo roams around the ranch and the underground tunnel system (OF COURSE Rambo has tunnels under his property!) laying traps like it’s Home Alone on a final dose cocktail of steroids, PCP, and pure adrenachrome. When Rambo tells the Big Baddie that he’s going to rip his heart out, you’ll pop a good, old-fashioned chubby because you know it’s not an idle threat. Hearts will be ripped out just like Rambo’s was ripped out by the perverts and black-hearted animals of the world.
In narration, Rambo says “I've lived in a world of death. I've watched people I've loved die. Some fast with a bullet, some not enough left to bury. All these years I've kept my secrets, but the time has come to face my past. And if they come looking for me, they will welcome death. I want revenge. I want them to know that death is coming. And there's nothing they can do to stop it.”
Is it a socially responsible film? Fuck no. Does it portray Mexican sex traffickers in a positive light? Again- fuck no! I wasn’t aware that we needed to do that. There are plenty of films out there that give a positive social message and respect everyone’s feelings. Go watch one of those if you need to be coddled, but this is a wonderfully schlocky throwback of a movie. It’s a rape/revenge flick starring the preeminent name in badass, and it doesn’t apologize for giving it to you straight.
You shouldn’t apologize for liking it. You have mine and Rambo’s permission.