Watching Rambo: Last Blood makes the fact that John Rambo ever had an audience a shameful one. Over the last 40 years, the Stallone staple has devolved from a mental martyr of the Vietnam War and an unreceptive welcoming party homeland into the barbaric, machine-gun-toting action “hero” we now recognize him as. Adrian Grunberg’s latest film continues to exploit the character’s comical killing abilities, somehow managing to up their brutality and in return, shredding any glimmer of intelligence and substance left standing in the decaying saga.
With that said, there was a time for these popcorn flicks. Beyond Ted Kotcheff’s 1982 classic, whose grain of astuteness may never expire, the several proceeding Rambo adventures can still be appreciated as relics of those varying positions in politics and world affairs. At this moment, however, it’s a tiresome concept, whose targeted barrage below the border against a mini population of faceless sex traffickers is not only unseemly, but frightening.
The film sees Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) having migrated to the dusty farmlands of Arizona as a seemingly reformed man. Finally ditching the strangling hairdo, a calm appears to have diffused into his lifestyle; riding horses, reconnecting with his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza), and becoming a surrogate uncle to her Hispanic niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). You know, after watching the man take out several overseas demographics of people across the years, seeing him live in the company of two Spanish-speaking compadres is a nice change of pace.
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The only deviation to his efforts of complete peace is the nonsensical series of tunnels he’s erected beneath the property; they seem to serve no other purpose than to trigger combat flashbacks (which is so obvious a con that it’s amazing the man didn’t foresee them himself), and introduce us to the battleground that we know will soon come in handy.
Now, the foundation of Rambo’s mantra has always rested on his being an outsider, with a programmed callousness that’s prevented him from fully joining the citizen collective. From a living, breathing demonstration of protective instincts to a super soldier sent to disarm foreign threats, his weaponized rage has managed to be a source of both entertainment and, for the occasional quick moment, insight. But Last Blood directly addresses Rambo’s self-perception more than any of his other onscreen fests; Stallone, for instance, mutters through a heartfelt scene in which the constant struggle to hold that lid to viciousness tight is finally vocalized.
Nice try, John, but no cigar. Once tragedy strikes, taking down any faith in humanity the vet managed to cumulate since his 2008 venture, he relapses and explodes in a gruesome pursuit of vengeance. In this way, Last Blood feels seditious, as if it were designed to cheer the man into hitting rock bottom.
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But let’s be honest, we can’t pretend like that’s not why the movie was made.
So no, Rambo isn’t given the avenue of self-help that he’s probably earned three or four times over. In fact, by the time the bullets have stopped flying, and his torturous, X-rated version of Home Alone is complete, he’ll have a hell of a lot more to come to terms with in his head.
On that note, those who can withstand the gore will not be able to turn away once Last Blood embarks on its swashbuckling finale – which is, as far as I can see, the only reason for its conception. If you can swallow the absentminded butchering of insensitive Mexican archetypes, you’ll become a witness to the action icon’s evolution into a day-walking slasher killer. This is not the Guerilla warfare you may be used to, folks, these are over-effective death traps: decapitating shotgun shells, faux doors that break into whittled-spike racks, spear-fitting holes in the wall, the list goes on and on. Stallone catapults himself into the chaos with an apparent full-steam-ahead mentality, simultaneously proving that Rocky was capable of throwing a couple more punches in Creed and also why that reserved role is what earned him an Oscar nomination.
But between the split bones and compulsive carnage, a disjointed script, co-written by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick, makes Rambo: Last Blood mindless and messy. With his right hand, Rambo tears at the embedded memories of ghastly violence in his brain, and with his left, he chops off the head of a gangster. There’s a serious mismatch at play here; neither concept come close to being fulfilled, though both, by themselves, are inherently interesting.
Rambo: Last Blood proves that the time and place for muscly, muddy military machoism has long passed us.