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‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Review: Dir. Adrian Grunberg (2019)

It has been eleven years since we last saw Vietnam-veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) grappling with his demons in a foreign land, which may lead one to question quite what he has to say about the world today now that he has returned home. While the franchise has never been the most subtle of commentaries, it has often managed to reflect certain conflicts and a larger cultural mindset from its very beginning in 1982 in a manner which is interesting at the very least. So, what does Rambo have to say about the world in 2019? 

John Rambo has been living a quiet life on his family ranch in Arizona, running it with an old family friend Maria (Adriana Bazzara) and her Granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), whom Rambo has come to care for as if she were his own. When Gabrielle runs off to Mexico to find her estranged father, she ends up being drugged and kidnapped by a ruthless cartel. Rambo takes it upon himself to go after her, and he is willing to do all that it takes to save Gabrielle before it’s too late.

That plot may sound a little familiar, it has the essence of Taken airlifted out of France and relocated to the US-Mexico border. This is the film’s first misstep. There’s little here that bears much resemblance towards other Rambo movies, aside from the excessive violence. Instead, it feels more like the character of Rambo has been arbitrarily placed into a generic revenge thriller that we’ve more than seen played out by this point. It is one of the many sloppy and lazy decisions that have gone into this execution of Rambo’s supposedly last ride.

Where the film becomes harder to swallow is in terms of its approach to the violence on-screen. The last film, 2008’s Rambo, was a very violent film, but that had an intent that at least felt well-intentioned in highlighting the brutal conflict in Burma. ‘Last Blood’ very much aims to capture the same brutal and nihilistic tone set down in its predecessor, but does so in the context of a story that seems to be designed to perpetuate the paranoia surrounding immigration and the Mexican border that has been so much a part of the rhetoric of the Trump Presidency. Pair that with the fact that the film is unrelentingly bleak in the way it goes about exploiting an audience’s bloodlust, Last Blood progressively becomes harder and harder to find much enjoyment in as it goes about its bloody business.

Related: Preparing for war: Revisiting First Blood

The villains themselves are as two-dimensional as they come, relying on worn-out caricatures of Mexican cartel members to allow the filmmakers an easy route in justifying Rambo’s violent actions. Once again, there’s some sense of Rambo being used as a more of a monster from a slasher movie with Stallone’s grizzled performance often proving to be quite frightening, but the brutally bleak approach to its generic action-thriller story beats simply drain the film of anything that is that entertaining or thought-provoking. And while the much-advertised Home Alone-esque final act is admittedly a fun idea, it simply doesn’t work in this context, as by the time Rambo unleashes hell, you are simply too bludgeoned and put-off by the oddly paced and structured events that have made up the first hour, with much of the action barely making much sense anyway.

There is certainly an interesting film to be made of Rambo returning home only to find that he still cannot escape the conflict and violence that has come to plague and define him, but this is not it. Last Blood is frankly a worst-case scenario when it comes to what a 2019 Rambo movie can be. It’s even too knuckleheaded in its approach to work as a piece of exploitation cinema, and there’s just so little left of what made John Rambo interesting to begin with to cling on to as the carnage commences. If this is to be Rambo’s last ride, then it will stand as a thunderously misjudged disappointment, one that lumbers about its nasty business in a clumsy and off-putting fashion, leaving the audience bludgeoned and dazed with nothing but a sour taste in the mouth to show for it. Nothing is over? Perhaps it should be, John J.

Rambo: Last Blood is now playing.


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