RAMBO – LAST BLOOD [Review]: One Last Rodeo, PLEASE.

“El Sacerdote” J.L. Caraballo Twitter @captzaff007

This. Damn. Movie. I If I had paid to see this film in theaters on its own, without a marathon of the previous films preceding it, I would have left much more livid and much more drunk than I was. This movie is abysmally, and disappointingly, bad. Here, it’s 11 years after the events of Rambo, and Rambo’s been spending his latter years working his family homestead with old family friend Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter, Gabriela (Yvette Monreal), who calls Rambo “Uncle John”. Gabriela has found her deadbeat father through her friend, Gizelle (Fenessa Pineda), who leads her to Mexico, where Gabriela is subsequently (and really REALLY quickly) drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. Rambo goes across the border to get her back, and yada yada yada.

“‘Border’? I don’t even KNOW ‘er.”

I’d summarize the rest of the plot, but none of it mattered. This is a lazy, lazy film, with a central character barely recognizable from any of his previous iterations (especially his prior appearance in 2008). This John Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood is the exact same character as John McClane in A Good Day To Die Hard: nothing but a recognizable actor playing the original role in name only. This is “John Rambo” the same as people in the comments section right now are named “Anonymous”. There is nothing interesting or remotely human about him (especially once the insane, fever dream, Saw-inspired, and completely unhinged final battle starts up). Stallone — one of my genuinely favorite actors and role models (ask me about that some day!) — could not be less interesting in this, possibly his least captivating version of the character, and one of his laziest late-era roles.

I have never looked more bored holding a rifle.

There’s a disappointing laziness that permeates the entire film: Rambo has spent years digging intricate tunnels on his property (I wonder where the climax is going to be set?!)…for some reason. He, a man who has begrudgingly turned to violence as the absolute last resort while hating every second of doing so despite being exceptionally good at it…collects every type of weapon imaginable. For some reason. He suddenly has a close, old family friend…who has never, ever been mentioned once, even when he is straight-up asked in the previous film if he has anyone to love, and he says, noncommittally, “I dunno. Father, maybe.” His physicality is lost: he is no longer the hulking beast he was in the last film, which makes a BIT of sense…but in losing his physical presence, he is prone to saying how he feels and what he’s thinks, as opposed to showing it.

Never is this more apparent than in a scene in which he and Gabriela are riding horses and talking about their relationship, and what they mean to each other. We don’t see their bond, so we can’t feel it, so there’s no drama to what happens in the second act. It feels almost as if Stallone walked onto set wearing whatever he came to work in, and they kept the first take he performed after reading the script for the first time.

“If I ain’t wearin’ a hat, I ain’t doin’ the movie.”

We’ve never seen these family friend characters before, never even had them mentioned ever, and the catch-up to make us, the audience, care about them, is too much to show…so they just say it. Paz Vega as journalist Carmen Delgado, who just HAPPENS to be investigating the Martinez Brothers and their gang (who have kidnapped Gabriela) acts, sadly, merely as an exposition dump, and even when Rambo asks for her help, we are never shown (or told) whether she actually does help him…so what’s her point?

It would have been interesting to see her actually DO something to impact the plot, but she doesn’t. Even the humanitarians in 2008’s Rambo finally threw down when they were getting desperate, which mattered to the characters and the theme of that film since they were Christian pacifists: even THEY had their limits.

No limits, NO CONTINUITY!

In Rambo, the villain, Maj. Tint (Maung Maung Khin) never even encounters Rambo until the last second of his life, yet we know enough about him in his screentime to hate him and his sadism.

Here, the Martinez Brothers, Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta)…names that would be good puns if they were actually French…are scary and despicable because Carmen tells Rambo that they are so: we’ve seen far worse from the lesser villains and henchmen in the series’ earlier installments.

“Am I Victor, or Hugo? Eh, doesn’t matter either way.”

Rather than the villains being exemplars of evil, here it is the ENTIRE COUNTRY OF MEXICO that is a deadly threat: as soon as Gabriela drives south of the border, she is sized up, stalked, and eyed by guys wearing wife-beaters, and openly drinking 40s and packing heat, and gets drugged within MINUTES of going to a Mexican club. There were so many establishing shots of the border wall I was waiting for a “Endorsed by the Office of POTUS” watermark to appear and bald eagles to fly over.

Rambo and Maria seem more terrified of Gabriela going to Mexico as a mere concept than going to meet her shitty father; and  Gizelle, in particular, looked like she walked out an early-1990s anti-gang PSA, wearing her plaid shirt with only the top button buttoned. Jesus wept.

…insert snarky joke here…

But gross politics aside…Rambo just isn’t Rambo here. When the bonkers third act begins, he relishes violence to an almost manic, sadistic degree; and while it could be argued that he is merely putting his military training to use, and this is a personal battle, there is a sophistication to what traps he sets that belies a patience and planning, an anticipation and longing for what he is about to do, for whatever reason.

(I’m reminded of a line from Garth Ennis‘s Punisher run, where Micro confronts Frank: “You’re not crazy. If you were you’d have walked into a McDonald’s with a grenade. You don’t take pleasure in what you do. Don’t take pleasure in anything, really, from what I can tell.” Here, Rambo IS the crazy person Micro is describing who enjoys the violence he inflicts.)

This certainly is the face of a crazy psycho sadist.

His last, final violent act in the movie is so LEAGUES removed from anything the scared, taut, awkward guy asking for a buddy’s address in the Pacific Northwest that it might as well be…nay…IS…nay…HAS TO BE…a completely different character. It HAS to be. His hair is completely different: cut short and neat. He talks calmly and normally to people.

Presumably he’s absorbed into society and paying taxes to the authorities and government from which he’d been running his entire adult life. He has eschewed all the tokens he used to wear in remembrance of the people for whom he cared (his buddy’s black bandanna; Co’s Buddha and red dress strip; Sarah’s crucifix).  His survival knife is gone. He gets his military jacket back…Hell, even the scar on the left side of his face…the one he’s worn for THE PAST THREE MOVIES!…is magically gone!

Also gone: memories of this film.

Wait. I’ve figured it out: someone MURDERED John Rambo and assumed his identity. Someone with equal military skills, training, and an excessive bloodlust; a wounded and tortured Vietnam vet with no family, and with the physicality and drive to pursue evil brown people and literally and graphically cut out their hearts. Last Blood isn’t the (presumably) final Rambo movie: it’s a blunt introduction to a hard-R Punisher film series!

Look, I am a HUGE fan of these movies (to wit: I paid nearly $40 to sit, by myself, for over 9 hours to see 4 movies I OWN, and one I’d never seen before, on a SUNDAY, where I left the theater more alcohol than man at 10pm to go to work the next day. Don’t call me a non-fan): Last Blood is not for “the fans”. That’s a cop out excuse for a poor film. I don’t mind shady politics, or political incorrectness or ultraviolence or any of the other excuses people are giving for the poor reviews: I mind lazy and boring stories that aren’t engaging.

So long as the story and characters are compelling, I’ll follow any sort of otherwise “distasteful” content you can throw at me…but it has to mean something, or at least be fresh and interesting. Characters are just plot contrivances, and if the film had focused, perhaps, on Rambo navigating his way through a cartel, on their own turf and with minimal resources — as opposed to setting traps and just waiting for all the bad guys to come to him to be dispatched with relative ease — it would have been more exciting.

2008’s Rambo succeeded in using Rambo’s age against him: he had to rely on the other mercenaries, and use whatever was at his disposal at the moment, with tension building since the middle section is in enemy territory, on their own base; hell, his use of the M2 Browning at the end was pure Rambo: the quickest, most efficient way to go through waves of enemies, while relishing not one single second of it. There’s a bizarre sadism to Rambo in Last Blood that became a tad uncomfortable by the time the credits rolled.

But guess who’ll probably be back for Final Blood?!

Rambo had come full circle in as tasteful fashion as he could back in 2008: digging him out and turning him into whoever he is in this film leaves a sad, gross, worn taste in the mouth. Last Blood loses the fun, adventure, visceral thrills, subtext (yes, subtext! You most definitely can analyze and over-analyze and contextualize Rambo), and soul of the prior installments. I don’t know where Rambo can go from here, but I sincerely hope it’s back to the drawing board, because as much as it tries and wishes to be, Logan this ain’t. 1/5 Fucking SEVERED HEADS?!

Rambo: Last Blood is currently playing in theaters if you wish to punish yourself for what only you know you’ve done.

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