Movie Review: Rambo – Last Blood*
Calling Rambo: Last Blood unnecessary would imply that it didn’t need to be made. Oh no. Rambo: Last Blood SHOULDN’T have been made.
*Note: Some parts of this article might be considered spoilery. As such, I’ve hidden those parts. If you want to read them, just highlight the text.*
All movies are unnecessary. They are art as well as entertainment, and as such are not a required commodity. So when I talk about being unnecessary, I am referring to what it does for an actor, a director, a franchise, or a fandom. They could simply be superfluous to the preceding media ( e.g. Solo: A Star Wars Story). A harmless little nothing. Then there are films that shouldn’t be made, because of the damage they cause (the Star Wars Prequels vis-à-vis Darth Vader’s street cred). Rambo: Last Blood is one of the most flagrant examples of this latter category I’ve ever seen. It seems to exist only to harm; be it the character, the actors, the franchise, or the fandom.
Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
After his last adventure, John J. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has settled down. Back on his family’s farm John trains horses and has a makeshift family in the form of a housekeeper and her granddaughter, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). These outlets, along with medication, mostly keeps his PTSD in check. It’s a ramshackle world, but it’s his. When Gabrielle decides to locate her biological father in Mexico, that world threatens to crumble in front of his eyes.
The Elephant In the Room
Lest I be perceived as biased, let’s get this out of the way first: I deplore Rambo: Last Blood using Mexicans as its antagonist in 2019. We have a bigot in the White House telling us that Mexicans are drug-dealers, gang-bangers, and rapists intent on stealing what little the average American has left. So when this movie decides to make their story about Mexican gang-bangers stealing what little Rambo has left by drugging a young woman to use in their sex-trafficking, it made me sick. The Rambo franchise has had some very dicey, ham-fisted politics throughout it’s run, but this MAGA flavored movie could get someone killed.
Despite all that, I turned that part of my brain off as soon as I sat down in the theater. Half the Rambo movies have been mindless entertainment, and the other half managed to say something real, if not something great. I went in fully ready to give this movie the benefit of the doubt.
I came away deploring Rambo: Last Blood, but for different reasons.
Everything in this film is in service to the final climactic bloodbath. The visuals are there to remind you how pretty Rambo’s world – is as well as how much you shouldn’t mess with it. The camera sweeps over John’s farm, the camera lingering on such Americana as a rusty mailbox and an old rocking chair on the porch. The music wistfully recalls Rambo’s heyday, a final bugling of his iconic theme song as we prepare to go to war for the last time with this man. When it’s time to actually prepare, every shot becomes a montage of the many, many ways Rambo knows how to kill a person.
Then it comes time for the slaughter. The camera swoops around Rambo making mincemeat of the baddies like something out of Evil Dead 2. But in this movie, we’re rooting for the evil in the forest, not the campers. The sheer visceral brutality of this final orgy of violence would make the Mortal Kombat devs squick. The fourth Rambo was visceral, but I felt it was in service to the story (I liked that movie more than Neil did). Here the story is in full thrall to the carnage. It is the end-all-be-all.
This film’s determination to end the Rambo franchise in torture porn was so audacious it impressed me. And I hated myself for it.
The only ethos this film has is pain. It’s insistent that trauma always wins, and if you’re going to lose, you might as well spread it around to others. Despite having things in his life that could point to hope and healing, Rambo insists on his fatalistic gospel of grievance. Twice the movie tries to talk John out of his cynicism. The first time he doesn’t listen. The second time he actively talks the other person into believing that pain, rage, retribution are all that this world can offer. I was gob-smacked.
And the trauma is certainly spread far and wide in this film. I came out of this film worried for Ms. Monreal. The things she had to portray couldn’t have been easy. The way this film lingered on suffering felt like trauma was intended for the audience too. When one baddy was finally knocked out after a grisly interrogation, someone in the audience let out a nervous laugh. I saw two or three people in the audience cover there eyes during certain acts in the finale. Anyone walking into see some Hoo-rah Rambo action might want to adjust their expectations. Also, a PSA to anyone who’s dealt with sexual violence: this film will be challenging.
<* To add insult to injury, the final narration tries to lionize Rambo’s final battle. It talks about protecting his property and his loved one’s memories. That’s pull-your-hair-out because it’s so deluded bullshit. He didn’t protect his property; he literally razed it to the ground in his vengeance. And how are you keeping your loved one’s memories alive by dying in a massive murder-suicide? Talk about trying to pass off shit as shinola. *>
Director’s Cut, Slash, and Stab
I’m honestly puzzled as to why this film came to be. This series had a perfectly reasonable ending in 2008’s Rambo. It married the series’ serious beginnings and campy evolution, landing the uneven franchise on a solid, somewhat hopeful note. Rambo: First Blood takes all that, pins it to a wall, and slowly pulls its guts out. The first movie was originally supposed to end in darkness (Rambo commits suicide), but decided on a glimpse of light. The franchise ends in the opposite manner, snuffing out every light it can find. Last Blood takes everything that came before and cheapens it. There is no redemption, no healing. Just meaningless slaughter.
I don’t know what possessed Stallone to come back to this franchise, especially with a film like this. I get that Sly likes to gnaw on a bone till it’s nothing but powder, as we’ve seen with Rocky (and Creed) and The Expendables. But with Rocky it seems like he can’t stop because he loves the character so much. Rambo: Last Blood seems to imply that he came back to Rambo because he hates him (and possibly everyone who liked him).
Now I kind of hate him too.