Rambo: Last Blood (2019) is the fifth film in Sylvester Stallone’s other franchise (you may know him best as an underdog boxer), and – if we’re lucky – it will be the last. I guess, for the sake of full disclosure, I’ve only seen the first two films…and not since I was a child. Thus, I have no attachment to the character or the franchise, but I do like well-made action films with complex and fully realized characters. I’d say this film has neither, but what it lacks in nuance and writing it makes up for with extremely gratuitous violence.
Last Blood is Rambo’s death rattle; tough to witness
Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is living on a ranch, digging tunnels, and raising his niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), with the help of her grandmother, Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza). The domesticated life seems to have comforted him to a degree, but he is clearly still haunted by his violent past. His newfound balance is threatened when Gabrielle decides she must meet her biological father to confront him about leaving her and her mother, which takes her into Mexico. When she doesn’t return, Rambo assumes the worst, and begins steeling himself for his darker side rise to the surface.
Last Blood is director Adrian Grunberg’s second film – the first being a Mel Gibson vehicle, Get the Gringo (2012) – and it is full of problems. Not to say Grunberg deserves all of the blame, as Matthew Cirulnick and Stallone having screenplay credits, which is definitely where many of the problems lie. However, there were three moments in the film that either looked bad, or felt like odd choices. The first are the early driving scenes where the backdrops, likely inserted via green screen, just look so fake and cheap that it cried for me to pay attention to it taking me out of the film for a moment. Later, there is a sequence that cross cuts Gabrielle, Rambo, and Maria as each is away from the other. The shots showing Maria feel quite out of place, as her character doesn’t get much to do in the film -so suddenly cutting to her sitting in a rocking chair felt simply ridiculous.
The last part that really made this film feel alien to the franchise was the Home Alone inspired series of booby traps. This throwback to a children’s holiday movie gets sillier – especially with the amount of blood and gore they produce – as the clunky moving of Stallone would make several of the “traps” damn near unlikely to be timed or work…not to mention that Rambo also seems to fully embrace the old joke “kill them to death” multiple times, as he shoots what could only be described as mangled corpses. It’s as though Rambo is thinking “That guy has no head…better shoot him in the crotch a couple of times to make sure he’s dead.”
The final act of violence is by far one of the ballsiest things I’ve ever seen, to the point that I threw my hands into the air in horrid disbelief that they would do it. It’s stupid, and feels like the movie thinks is violence is comedy, which doesn’t feel inline with the message of Rambo at all. Making the apparent attempt at humor through violence worse is that the bad guys are all depicted as the absolute scum of the earth…and that they all happen to come from Mexico. In a time where racism seems to be on the rise, making all of the film’s antagonists Mexican and absolutely horrible rapists who have zero empathy for any of the people they hurt is in bad taste. This was yet another aspect which made this film extremely hard to get through, despite its reasonable runtime.
Last Blood could have been a final sendoff to one of the beloved Stallone characters. Instead, it’s as though all the other Rambo films had been thrown into a shallow grave, and Stallone poured his Expendables franchise on top of it and lit them on fire with Rhinestone and Over the Top. It’s easy for me to tell you NOT to see this movie. Rambo: Last Blood earns Avoid like the Plague rating.