I have no idea if Rambo: Last Blood is indeed the last entry in the series, as the title suggests. What I do know is that for a series that has consistently gone back and forth between interesting introspection on the effects of war to macho, Americanized parodies of masculinity, the Rambo series seems to be finally out of gas on any semblance of substance behind the chaos. What’s left is a pastiche of the iconic imagery of the title character, like an old rock band playing their greatest hits long after the cultural meaning behind those songs have been forgotten with time. In short, Rambo no longer stands out as unique if morally compromised; instead, it represents an action movie status quo and nothing more.
The film follows a retired John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), enjoying life on his ranch in Arizona. Despite this, he’s occasionally hampered by visions of the Vietnam war. These scenes act more as homage than anything useful to the plot, especially given that Rambo is hardly conflicted when confronted with the opportunity to elicit another blood bath.
He lives with his friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). Gabrielle and Rambo appear to have a close bond as he resembles something of a grandfather for her, but he can’t prevent her from tracking down her biological father in Mexico. Stubbornly pursuing him, she has to learn for herself how ferociously (and cartoonishly) evil he is. But while in Mexico, Gabrielle ends up captured by a sex-trafficking ring, and… well you know the rest, it’s Taken time!
It’s at this point where the film descends into generic action movie trappings. You can even pinpoint the exact moment where the change occurs, as one of our villains walks into frame wearing an unbuttoned shirt, bare chest (with no chest hair, take off cliche points), an aggressively unremarkable chain and a shitty ponytail.
Meanwhile, Rambo interrogates one of Gabrielle’s friends, as the belligerent girl is grilled in a comically dark room. Once Rambo pinpoints Gabrielle’s whereabouts, he infiltrates the ring as a one man wrecking crew. Narrowly avoiding death by way of the “why don’t they just shoot him?” trope, Rambo returns to doing Rambo things, violently murdering anyone in his path either by weapons or his bare hands. At one point, he tears the skin off some guy’s neck and the poor bastard can barely belt out “YOU’RE BREAKING MY…” before he’s dead. I don’t know which body part the guy would have said, but he could have listed 1 of 7 different bones and would have been correct.
The action crescendos with an admittedly well-produced climax, but the festivities ring hollow. While we can marvel at the onslaught of action and sound, what we bear witness to is Rambo running through a platoon of generic baddies not unlike your average First-person Shooter. These characters aren’t at all memorable or defined, conjuring little to no hatred from the audience and thus there’s not much elation in seeing their comeuppance. This a film series with roots baked into real-world conflicts and believable emotion behind the characters’ actions, but that time and effort is abandoned in favor of tired archetypes and situations.
Imagine if the Rocky series abandoned it’s working class underdog motif, and just simply had the characters battle it out in dull boxing matches with no internal conflict bubbling beneath the surface. That is similar to what he have here – there is hardly an inspiration behind yet another sex-trafficking ring, and there’s no empathy for this Rambo’s struggles with violence. It is without any weight; just bloodshed between strangers.
Rambo does eventually settle back into his quiet life at home, waiting perhaps to see if the box office receipts will justify a sequel. However, it’s probably for the best that this is the end. When you’re basically indistinguishable from the assembly line of modern action movies, even borrowing heavily from them, then maybe it’s time to hang it up. You’ve lost your fastball.