The Rambo franchise is unique in the fact that First Blood, the first film in the series, feels completely different from its follow-ups, in almost every respect. Tone, thematic depth, intelligence, grounded realism, etc. I watched the entire series for the first time to prepare for this final film and it’s rather fascinating to witness the trajectory Sylvester Stallone took this series in. Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III are practically live-action cartoons, with Rambo (the 2008 film with a confusing title) bringing back the more grim and gritty tone. I felt Rambo was a return to form for the character and it even felt like a proper send-off. However, Stallone can’t help himself, because he’s Stallone, and has to be put out one last sequel (until he makes another one in a decade). 

Rambo: Last Blood follows old Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) living a quiet life on a ranch in Arizona, having not killed anybody in over a decade. He lives with old family friend Maria (Adriana Barazza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who he has an almost paternal relationship with. Abandoned by her father at a young age, Gabrielle travels to Mexico to reconnect with him. Rambo and Maria beg her not to go and they turn out to be right, as Gabrielle is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel to be sold into sex slavery. Well, Rambo being Rambo, heads south of the border to rescue Gabrielle and kill all of the cartel members he can. 

When I first heard Rambo was going to be going up against a bunch of cartel scumbags, I was completely game. Rambo gave those abhorrent Burmese soldiers the brain splattered punishment they deserved and all of the baddies get it even worse here. The .50 cal turret scene from Rambo was a thing of hilarious beauty, but exploding heads and people being blown in half is nothing compared to what we see here. The climax takes place back at Rambo’s ranch, where he utilizes his old Vietnam War experiences to booby trap the entire place. Yes, it’s basically an R-rated version of Home Alone, down to Rambo drawing out plans in his network of underground tunnels. The bad guys get massacred in a variety of gruesome ways, from severed legs, to caved in faces. You even get some great exploding heads. With this being the [alleged] last outing for the character, Stallone really went all out. Rambo is more brutal than ever before and he’s gonna make you know it in the most painful way possible. Just like Rambo, there’s a decent mix of sickening real-life violence (seeing young women being abused by cartels), and cathartic, hilarious violence (seeing said cartels being massacred). When the realistic violence committed by the antagonists make you incredibly uncomfortable, it just makes it that much more satisfying when their heads start getting blown off. 

Stallone has still got it, too. He has that reserved, fatherly attitude with Gabrielle and Maria, but when the chips are down, “killing is as easy as breathing”. He may be 73, but Stallone is still a beast and during the final act, you can just see the rage and viciousness in his eyes. As Rambo said last time around, “killing is in your blood.” No matter what, Rambo’s always gotta be killing people. Unfortunately, aside from Stallone and Barazza, none of the actors are any good. I’m sure Yvette Monreal is a nice girl, but man, she just couldn’t act. Every interaction with her felt stilted, but when she’s silent, she’s not all that bad. The main villains aren’t anything to write home about, nor are their performers, but really, they’re just there to be slaughtered. I’ll give Stallone credit for developing them more than the main villain the last film, who has like five lines. You don’t really come to a Rambo movie for depth, though. These movies haven’t had depth since the first sequel, so anybody who expects any depth from the series at this point is a fool. You now come for Stallone to kill people and you get it. 

While the last half-hour is the most entertaining part, I still enjoyed the overall film. It’s all incredibly cliché and predictable (aside from one surprising story development), but I liked seeing Rambo being dragged back into violence and entering a different kind of war zone: a cartel ran Mexican city. It’s not just him killing people, but doing a bit of detective work and trying to resolve things without violence. Of course, that doesn’t work out, so there are intermittent scenes of violence before the bombastic half-hour, which keeps it entertaining. The plot is so thin and running at only 89 minutes, there are some superfluous elements thrown in to pad out the runtime, such as Paz Vega’s totally pointless journalist character. You think you might get a bit of commentary on how dangerous it is to be a journalist investigating cartels, but there’s really nothing there. Everything just feels like a simple vehicle to get Rambo back into killing, but hey, the killing is super satisfying. 

Rambo: Last Blood delivers the goods, as long as you don’t go in expecting this to be as thoughtful and restrained as First Blood. Like Stallone did with Rambo, he brought back the grit and groundedness of the original film and deftly mixed it into action schlock. You get the exact same thing here and if you ever wanted Rambome Alone, this is the film for you. If you want First Blood, then just watch First Blood. There’s no reason to watch it and just complain that, “it’s not as good as First Blood,” when you can watch the movie itself. If you want violent schlock, though, you’re gonna get it in blood-covered spades. 


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