Sylvester Stallone brings his second most popular film character out of retirement for “Rambo: Last Blood.”
It’s been 11 years since the last time John Rambo hit the big screen and for his most recent and possibly last outing Stallone has given us an 83 minute ultra violent blood bath that is at times exhilarating and depressing.
“Last Blood” opens with John Rambo living a peaceful existence in Arizona on horse ranch he inherited from his father. Helping him manage the farm are his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). Rambo has assumed the father figure role after Gabrielle’s father left 10 years earlier. As the girl gets ready to leave for college she has a longing to see her biological dad one last time to get closure before starting the next phase of her life. Rambo asks her not to go to Mexico but eventually she does and this is where all hell breaks loose in a C movie action plot we have seen all too many times.
Once in Mexico Gabrielle is kidnapped and forced into the sex slave business of two cartel brothers. The bad guys in this film are the worst I have ever seen and this film is unrelenting in the violence displayed by the villains and our hero. By the time Rambo gets to Mexico his surrogate daughter has already been objected to atrocities that thankfully happen off screen. Sadly the audience knows that her white knight might be able to save her physical being but mentally she will be scarred for life much like Rambo was in Vietnam.
As with most action films our hero storms in to kick ass but something different happens. Rambo is surrounded by at least fifty men and instead of unrealistically fighting his way out he gets beaten to a pulp. The baddies find a picture of Gabrielle in Rambo’s pocket and now her world is even more threatened as Rambo is left for dead. Rambo is helped by Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega), a reporter who has been trying to bring down the same sex traffickers who kidnapped and killed her sister two years earlier.
Over the next four days Carmen nurses Rambo back to health and he immediately jumps back into action to save Gabrielle. Armed with only a claw hammer Rambo storms the building and kills every man he comes in contact with. There is no hesitation no time to ask questions because he knows any man that is in this place of torture and abuse is bad with a capital B. The kills are brutal but as an audience member I relished it because this is what an action movie is all about. The bad guys are introduced and they have to get their comeuppance. They must die, there is no other way. After each kill Rambo implores the girls to “leave” and “get out” but none of them do. They are paralyzed with the fear of what might happen if they run.
He finally finds Gabrielle in a room where she has been beaten and the track marks on her arm let us know she has been turned into a heroin addict as well. It is horrible but the cavalry is here so all will be okay right? Right??
This is where the movie took a turn I did not anticipate… BIG SPOILER… on the drive back to Arizona the girl… dies. Gabrielle and Rambo are having a heart to heart talk but the abuse over the last four days has been too much on this young soul and she passes away. This is not what I wanted or expected at all. I knew that the mental scars would be with her for the rest of her life but her physical self would be saved to live another day but no. This was a ballsy filmmaking choice to make and although it was rough to watch and not at all what I would have chosen to do it works on some levels. It’s gut wrenching that the hero can’t save his princess and no matter what vengeance he inflicts on the monsters who did this it won’t be enough for Rambo or satisfying enough for the audience. That’s how you feel going into the third act. You are gutted, you are hopeless and you know what’s coming next.
The last act is vicious. Rambo heads back to Mexico and slaughters as many of the cartel as possible and then purposely let’s them know where he lives. The cartel eventually storms the ranch where Rambo is more than ready to eviscerate them on his own turf. The kills are incredibly violent… they have to be because once again John Rambo has been left with nothing to live for and he needs closure for the loss of his adopted child. The audience needs these men to pay for their crimes. The anticipation of ass kicking had me giddy in my seat and the audience was all in for the villains to be punished.
In the end though the feeling is bittersweet. The damage has been done and no amount of carnage and revenge can bring back what Rambo has lost. The audience feels it. Was this movie created as anti death penalty propaganda? I might be reading too much into it but I do know the feeling as I left the theater was more dread than satisfaction. Not because the film didn’t deliver on it’s promise of full tilt action but because in the end the film left me with an overwhelming feeling of despair.
In 2019 as we witness mass shootings, immigrant kids in cages and open racism from our politicians it’s tough to give “Rambo: Last Blood” a number rating. As an action film it did it’s job so it should get a 10 out of 10. The pace is quick and it wastes no time with long bad guy speeches or cheesy one-liners. That said, it fills you with dread and that’s not how you want to leave the multiplex on a sunny afternoon in Southern California so the compromise for this reviewer will be…
Pat Francis currently hosts the popular comedy/music podcast “Rock Solid,” called 1 of the 8 great music podcasts to put in your ears by USA Today and featuring artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Sammy Hagar and Susanna Hoffs. His frequent appearances on Jimmy Pardo’s top rated podcast “Never Not Funny” are fan favorites. Pat began his entertainment career as a stand-up comic in Chicago, IL. After touring the country and performing in 42 states at comedy clubs and colleges, he relocated to Los Angeles, CA. There he appeared as a comedian on Comedy Central, AMC, the UCB and is a yearly regular at the San Francisco Sketchfest. For the past 5 years he has also served as Co-Host of the yearly event Pardcast-A-Thon which to date has raised over 700,000 for Smile Train. When not entertaining people in person he also makes his living as a Story Producer for reality television programs. It is also important to know that Pat is a monkey in a human mask.