Vietnam War veteran and action icon John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is back for one more round of violent carnage in Rambo: Last Blood. Coming 37 years after the original First Blood introduced the character to audiences around the world, this marks the second iconic Stallone character to see a new entry in recent times (after Rocky returned in the Creed films), but don’t let the wrinkles and grey hair fool you into thinking he’s any less dangerous or savage.
On a path of revenge against a Mexican cartel who takes his niece, Rambo unleashes destructive rage and hate in what’s billed as his final mission for the franchise. Last Blood is one of the most brutal movies I’ve seen in years and not for the easily squeamish.
It’s been 11 years since the events of Burma in 2008’s John Rambo, and John has finally settled into a peaceful life on a horse ranch left by his deceased father in Arizona. He’s been living with his friend Maria Beltran (Ariana Barraza) and her beloved granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who John has treated like a daughter for the past decade. At long last, the old soldier has managed to find a positive, new purpose in a life marked by endless death.
But these good vibes change when Gabrielle wants to travel to Mexico to see her father who abandoned her as a child. Despite John and Maria’s pleas to not go to such a dangerous place to find a man who never wanted her, she secretly heads out anyway to seek answers from her father. Gabrielle manages to track him down, though quickly realizes what kind of man he really is. Needing a distraction from this awful family reunion, she goes clubbing with her friend Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), but her drink is drugged by people with terrible motives and she never makes it back to the Arizona ranch.
John learns of Gabrielle’s trip to Mexico and quickly crosses the border to bring her home safely. But it won’t be that simple as Gabrielle has been kidnapped by the Mexican cartel and forced into sex slavery, forcing the old soldier to come out of retirement and do whatever he can to locate and bring her home. At the same time he’ll need to prepare for the fight to come to his doorstep against a brutal adversary whose need for revenge is equal to that of John Rambo.
Sylvester Stallone gives an intense, yet somber portrayal of the aging vet John Rambo. This no-nonsense badass has been through a lot of shit over the decades (watch the end credits) and you really get a sense of that with Stallone’s performance. He successfully encapsulates a man thoroughly broken by war, only his struggles with PTSD means the battle inside him rages on. Even though this is a simple story with simple dialogue we really get a feel for the weight of bad memories and plenty of life lessons learned the hard way that John carries with him.
Despite his violent inner demons, he’s found a more positive purpose in life by becoming a father figure and mentor to a college-bound Gabrielle. So when she is taken away from him, those demons he’s kept bottled inside are left with no choice but to burst forth and he becomes the very thing he’s best at. Last Blood allows Stallone to showcase both sides of John Rambo’s complex personality: his caring, nurturing side, as well as the merciless bringer of death when called upon. It’s a solid performance.
With a runtime of just under 90 minutes, a very basic script and requisite Stallone montage showing John readying his tools of war for one more fight, I felt like a kid again watching the type of action movie that created the superstars of the 80s and 90s. Think big and dumb, with plot holes you could fly a plane through, such as John not being wise enough to realise Gabrielle was going to Mexico anyway and seeing the cartel push forward into an obvious trap set by John. Still, the premise is reliably solid – think Taken or Commando – and plays out with mostly satisfying results.
Director Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo) has crafted a modern version of a more traditional 80s action blockbuster, only much more violent. A lot more. Fans that remember the sheer destruction of the last Rambo film should know what to expect as Last Blood holds no punches showcasing the graphic nature of pure violence on those its inflicted on. You could almost call it an action movie with a sprinkle of slasher horror to keep things nice and chunky. To be perfectly honest, while I enjoy action and brutal action sequences as much as the next fan, some may find the carnage on display a little too much. You’ve been warned.
Rambo: Last Blood is pretty much what I expected and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite its dumb plot and dissapointing ending, it’s still a decent Rambo movie and fitting conclusion to the franchise. Given its subject matter and Rambo’s particular style for ‘solving’ problems, there’s no doubt this film will be more than a little controversial in this highly politicized environment. Those attempting to find more substance underneath the chaos might be disappointed, as this has never been a franchise big on nuance. However, if you just want to see this aging action icon go one more round where he does most of his “negotiating” with a big knife and gravelly voice, here’s your chance.