Rambo: Last Blood is the fifth (and likely final) film in the long-running Rambo franchise that began with First Blood in 1982, and has soldiered on ever since despite one of the most infrequent new entry schedules of the past 37 years, especially for a character this well-known and beloved by so many (including this one, there are only five Rambo films). It was directed by Adrian Grunberg, and once again stars Sylvester Stallone as the titular character, now retired and living out his days on a small farm near the U.S.-Mexico border with Maria (Adriana Barraza) and his young niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who will soon be departing to attend university. One day, after Gabrielle travels down to Mexico in order to acquire answers to a mystery she’s been attempting to solve her entire life, she never comes back, and it’s up to John Rambo to get her home, no matter who tries to get in his way. Also starring Paz Vega, and written by Sylvester Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick, Last Blood brings back the action hero for one last stand, to prove once and for all that vengeance is the only justice he needs.
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie considering no one seemed to be asking for a legacy sequel/conclusion to this franchise anyway, and the trailers revealed it to be a mid-late September release, which usually isn’t a great sign for films no one was actually asking for already (we won’t get into the fact that the initial trailer used only the non-rap parts of “Old Town Road” as a song choice, but yeah, that was a thing that happened). Add to that the fact that I’ve never actually seen any of the other Rambo films all the way through (at least not to any extent I can remember very well), as well as some fairly low critical ratings coming out of the press screenings, and I got a pretty clear picture of exactly what kind of early fall feature I’d be in for in terms of quality, pacing, etc. What’s somewhat surprising about Last Blood, though, is just how lackluster and disappointing everything feels despite already knowing not to expect anything particularly good.
This movie is not good, but it’s not just not good in the sense that it has some pacing issues while still telling a mixed-bag story with frenetic and exciting action, the way most “not good but not terrible” movies do; the action is exciting when it goes down, yes, but there’s really almost zero story here, and the fact that a feature film in such a long-running franchise has basically nothing going for it right up until the finale is still kind of a shock, even in 2019. Sure, I didn’t exactly expect anything particularly compelling, but there’s also nothing really there to not be compelling, because there’s hardly anything there at all. The whole film is really just a feature-length excuse to have Stallone do a Home Alone-style booby trap action routine during the film’s final moments, and while it’s certainly a creative (and admittedly entertaining) sequence, it doesn’t really end up serving any purpose to the story, other than to show how good Stallone is at exacting revenge against the worst kind of people.
Lest you think any of these worst people (or even our heroes) get any sort of development or nuance, however, let me put your concerns to rest by reassuring you that any step in the direction of dramatic weight or character development is only that: a step. This is about as stripped down and basic as any semblance of a plot can be, and while I’m not usually an advocate for lengthening films (if anything, many movies are far too long already), there seemed to be a spot where they could have put in an entire second act that either got scrapped or cut, and the result is that the first act is split over the space where two of them should be. Really, there’s not much more than an acknowledgement by the story that the film has to have a certain number of working pieces in place before we get what we came to see, and since what we came to see only lasts for about twenty minutes or so, the first act needs to be stretched along a razor-thin surface and stretched into two in order to justify putting the whole thing in theaters, rather than sending it straight to VOD where it more than likely belongs.
The relationships Stallone has in the film are meant to be understood as meaningful, but the lack of development for each character means that we’re not shown why they actually mean anything to him other than “hey, someone’s gotta get hurt to get this plot going.” At one point Stallone runs into a journalist while he’s down in Mexico, but nothing comes of her introduction, so even if her character were removed from the film entirely, it would largely remain pretty much the same. The only relationship he seems to have any connection to is that of his niece, but her character is so razor-thin that when something happens to her, no matter how horrifying it should be, I simply felt nothing more than I otherwise did for anyone else in the film the same things were happening to.
In fact, even with the titular character, there is basically no development; nothing is really explored in terms of where he’s at in his life, what he might be thinking regarding the U.S.’ state of involvement in other wars we shouldn’t have engaged in, or even what his stance is regarding the current climate of U.S.-Mexican relations, regardless of whether one agrees with it or not – there’s simply nothing there. Nowhere is this clearer than in the film’s seemingly purposeful separation from the tone, themes, and dramatic nuance of the rest of its own franchise. Most people familiar with the series’ origins will remember that the big thematic draw of the original incarnation of Rambo was his connection the Vietnam war and his need to get justice for having been sent over there only to lose and then be discarded by the government he was fighting for (yeah, I didn’t see the originals, but I did a little research); Last Blood, however, couldn’t be further from that picture, and in fact if the title didn’t give away the game, one could be forgiven for not even knowing that this was a Rambo movie at all – such is the lack of connection between the original series and this late conclusion. You could literally take the title off the film completely, change the main character’s name, and no one would even come close to guessing what franchise this was meant to fit into, if not for the final action sequence.
I will concede that the first half (while still the less interesting half) is pretty well shot overall, and there are some beautiful images on display before we get to all the Rambo stuff, but even though it’s decent-looking, it’s not interesting enough to remember, and the only purpose by which Mexico or the U.S. are ever framed is to establish a change of location, rather than to communicate an idea or any sort of directorial stance or intent. The latter half, however, looses any of what the first half had going for it cinematography-wise and instead settles for a point-and-shoot dynamic that feels less engaging than even the first half of the movie is. It’s a somewhat bizarre mix of trading qualities between halves for the front and back of the film to try and pull off, and it doesn’t actually do anything to help either end.
Rambo: Last Blood is not a good movie by almost any stretch (and those are long stretches), but if you’re going to see it, you likely already know not to expect anything particularly special, other than Sylvester Stallone murdering bad guys in increasingly creative ways during the film’s finale. Even still, the lack of character development and any semblance of a story, as well as uninteresting direction, and an essentially non-existent second act, make this a legacy sequel that has little to no reason to have been theatrically released, and one where you can probably just wait for it to hit the $5 Walmart DVD bin.
Hey, at least we still have Rocky.
I’m giving “Rambo: Last Blood” a 3.2/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.