Having found success by reviving Rocky Balboa for the Creed series, Sylvester Stallone again attempts to provide a fitting end for one of his iconic characters in Rambo: Last Blood.
After last seeing John Rambo in 2008’s fourth instalment, we meet the army veteran living out his days on a ranch in Arizona. However, this tranquillity is disturbed when his niece is kidnapped by a cartel in Mexico and sold into the sex trade.
What follows is a sadistic and truly unpleasant film which feels like a remake of Taken, updated for Donald Trump’s America. Rambo heads south of the border and slaughters his way through hordes of locals. In truth, barely anything else happens.
Men are stabbed, slashed and have their bones snapped in explicit fashion as the film’s ‘hero’ acts on suspicion and stops at nothing to find his niece. Not only is this a painfully generic narrative, but with the exception of Paz Vega’s underwritten Carmen (a journalist who helps Rambo locate the cartel), the film presents Mexicans as untrustworthy at best and as callous gangsters at worst.
The Rambo franchise has always been firmly action-based and its politics have often proved questionable. Yet, it’s painful to see a series that began with an ahead of its time analysis of PTSD and a healthy criticism of America’s role in the Vietnam war degenerate into a one-note exercise in race-baiting.
A perfunctory script replaces the series’ previous introspection with a fear of the other as it devolves into the worst traits of action cinema. These failings are evident in the character development, or lack thereof. Rambo’s PTSD is illustrated by fleeting flashbacks to his time in Vietnam but is never properly developed.
Weak writing and a tired performance mean that there is nothing left of what made Rambo so compelling and nuanced in First Blood – the character here is barely recognisable. Stallone falls into his usual action hero shtick, which Rambo used to rise above. Now his only identifiable characteristic is a dislike of Mexicans.
The lead’s age also means that Last Blood is sorely lacking in spectacle. At 73, it is questionable whether Stallone should still be an action star. No real stunts are possible, meaning that the only action is Rambo taking down his foes with a knife or shooting them at point-blank range. To no real surprise, this becomes very tiring and manages to make a 90-minute film feel drawn-out.
An effects-laden final acts threatens to provide some excitement, but it is overblown and overstays its welcome. Director Adrian Grunberg, whose work on the second unit of Netflix show Narcos inspired some initial confidence, fails to inject the film with any verve. The thrills of watching an agile Stallone evade police in the 1982 original could not feel further away.
Uninspired, derivative and rooted in alarming politics, Rambo: Last Blood brings the iconic character into the 2010s and manages to find the era’s most troubling aspects. As the credits play out over a montage of the entire series, which amazingly includes a highlight reel of the film you’ve just watched, it’s evident that Stallone and Grunberg have failed to make Rambo great again.
— Rambo: Last Blood (@RamboMovie) August 20, 2019
Image courtesy of Rambo: Last Blood via Twitter, with thanks.