Director: Adrian Grunberg
Writer: Matt Cirulnick, Sylvester Stallone
Composer: Brian Tyler
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim, Joaquín Cosío, Oscar Jaenada
The Rambo series is one of the most beloved in all of contemporary action cinema. From it’s earliest entry First Blood to its initial sequels and late period revivals from an older Sylvester Stallone, the character and franchise have always represented one of the most hardcore and brutal action franchises to come out of contemporary Hollywood. After 37 years and now five entries, the series has come officially to a close with Rambo: Last Blood.
Violence/Scary Images: Characters die extremely graphic deaths with blood/bones/gore shown in great detail, a character overdoses on drugs
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout including f*** used multiple times
Sexual Content: Themes of sex trafficking and rape, nothing depicted
Other Negative Content: Some potentially offensive content for general audiences and violence
Positive Content: Themes of justice and innocence
I can’t help but think of the famous phrase Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld took with them when they were writing the series finale of Seinfeld: “There will be no learning and no hugging.” That seems to similarly be the same attitude that went into the final Rambo film, Rambo Last Blood. This isn’t going to be a movie with learning or introspection. Instead it’s going to be a Rambo movie with all the baggage that comes with it.
I only just watched the Rambo movies for the first time this summer and, honestly, I find them somewhat confusing. The first movie is a moody 70s drama about a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD getting into a fight with a small town police department when his war memories start activating his training. It’s almost like a low-pressure remake of The Deer Hunter without the prestige. From that point onward, the series turned into an unironic series of ultra-violent cathartic action movies where the traumatized veteran finds himself getting redeployed to country after country to free prisoners of war, fight communists, and protect missionaries.
It’s a weird series overall, made weirder by the way it’s been embraced unironically as one of the most popular action series of the 1980s. Honestly, though, all of these movies just work for me. My passion for Charles Bronson/Cannon Films is well on record at this point, and these movies scratch that itch. Even when the movies stop being technically good movies after First Blood Part II, I found a great deal to groove on. I’m part of the contingent that says the fourth movie was actually pretty awesome.
Rambo Last Blood picks up where the 2008 film left off. John Rambo has finally moved back to the United States attempting to settle down with a new home and adopted family in Arizona. As we meet him, he’s become a surrogate father to a young woman about to move off to college who has decided to visit Mexico before she goes to meet her estranged father. When the trip accidentally results in her being kidnapped by the Cartel into sex trafficking, John begins one final mission south of the US-Mexico border to save her and get revenge on the Cartel.
The movie is a brisk 90 minutes, but the first hour betrays it somewhat. It’s a slow movie light on drama that doesn’t really ramp up the stakes beyond the immediate personal quest for Rambo to accomplish. I didn’t quite realize what I was in for until the scene in which Rambo rips a man’s shoulder blade out of his arm with his bare fingers. At this point, I got a sense where the movie was going.
From this point forward, the movie didn’t shy away from the over-the-top violence. I’m not kidding when I say this is one of the most brutal films of the year, and some audiences are not gonna be prepared for it. Simultaneously, it’s easily the darkest film in the Rambo series. The movie takes on the themes of cartel violence, sex trafficking, and drug use unflinchingly and painfully. The moments in between Rambo’s later rampages are bleak. There are a couple of monologues in the film where the lead character pontificates about the horror of his existence, but they’re quite downplayed. The movie was more interested in playing it out as an ultra-gritty remake of Home Alone than a contemplative mood piece. The movie absolutely relishes it’s unrestrained violence and packs on violent kill after violent kill.
I can’t say Rambo Last Blood is necessarily the best place to end a series. Unlike Creed or Rocky Balboa, this really isn’t a narratively coherent place to end on. It’s arguably the weakest film in its franchise, given how small John Rambo’s final challenge ends up being. Most of the acting is second rate and the script is limp. At the same time, I can tell this movie is going to be something a lot of people connect with. Considering how much hooting and hollering my audience had, I can say this is definitely going to be up some people’s alleys.
+ Amazing/brutal fight scenes + Solid final performance from Stallone
- Lukewarm script - Cheap production design - Poor performances
The Bottom Line
Rambo Last Blood will satiate a certain kind of action movie junkie starved for old school, brutal, and unpretentious action movies from the 1980s. If you're not one of them, then it'll be nothing but a boring slog with unnecessarily brutal death scenes throughout.