Rambo: Last Blood
The last scenes in Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth and supposedly final film in Sylvester Stallone’s signature action series, are a montage of clips from 1982’s First Blood all the way to some from the film we just sat through. This recap is a convenient reminder that the first film was a probing, philosophically rich character piece, while the rest have been various forms of revenge porn.
In other words, we’re getting another Rambo movie, not another First Blood, as much as current director Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo) intimates that this one will go back to the character’s origins. Last time ’round, in 2008’s Rambo (or John Rambo, or Rambo IV, depending on where you live), the character caused mayhem in Burma. Here he’s on an Arizona ranch, peacefully taking care of ponies while his surrogate daughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) is about to enter college. When the girl learns that her estranged father is over the border in Mexico, she decides to go confront him and find out why he left.
Suffice it to say that things go bad – so badly, it’s almost weirdly refreshing to get a film where actual consequences play out, at least for some characters. We’re so used to slightly chaste versions of these stories that it’s nice to see one where the stakes are high. (That’s of course a pun for the booby traps that Rambo has hidden in his underground cave system. Trust me, it’s no less insane than the helicopter stuff in part III where Rambo essentially saved the Taliban.)
There are good people and bad people over the border, but the bad people are really bad, so we don’t feel pangs of guilt as they get clobbered one-by-one. In one scene, Rambo gets a concussion and we think that maybe he’s human after all. Well, it turns out that action movies may mention trauma, but the concussion protocols are certainly not followed in subsequent scenes.
At any rate, things happen, people are killed, explosions go off, horses prance, and the sun always seems to be just about to set. There are fleeting moments when you think the film will be some reflective, ruminative piece on an aging warrior who must use guile over brawn to combat his enemies, but that wouldn’t be very Rambo-ish, would it?
Stallone has long chafed at notions that this character could be politicized, either by Ronald Reagan as some iconic symbol of American virtue or by those who feel that Rambo represents the most egregious self-mythologizing of the avenging warrior. It may be impossible to divorce Rambo from the jingoistic baggage that the series of sequels brought, but a charitable reading might suggest that politicizing the character would be the same as ascribing ideological intent to a loyal attack dog. It’s dehumanizing, perhaps, but it’s at least more honest than the actual message the movies send. Things go awry? Send in the big guns and wipe them out.
This end to Rambo (and lord this feels like the end) is about as decent as you can expect. The movie offers no surprising uplift in character development, and no real recognition for the coiled energy that drove First Blood. I get why Sly and company wish to take another dip, as this revenge tale has a Home Alone or Straw Dogs vibe that’s satisfying in an evergreen way.
If Rambo: Last Blood is the last word on the franchise, it’s an unremarkable sendoff to a character who has long overstayed his welcome. Nevertheless, it implausibly works within the framework of what it’s trying to present, a blatantly simple story of revenge that doesn’t once look to either side of the road to see what it’s passing by, or how the landscape has changed. This is a horse with blinders on, and any moment of deep reflection would make the whole thing fall apart. Instead, we’re left to revel in the thwip of arrows, the gore of the attacks, and the sense of simplistic justice that has been the cornerstone of this series for decades.