Over 35 years after the release of “First Blood,” the Rambo franchise has reached its conclusion with the satisfyingly titled “Rambo: Last Blood.”
For decades now, Sylvester Stallone has carried the “Rocky” and “Rambo” franchises on his back, epitomizing over-the-top manliness with enough testosterone-filled action to make a bull feel inadequate.
However, the tone of “Last Blood” seems to be a shift from the previous 80’s action-flick style of the franchise. John Rambo is seen as a family man here, running a ranch in Arizona and taking care of a woman named Maria and her granddaughter Gabriela. He shows love and emotion towards the pair, who he has built a familial bond with in his post-war civilian life.
Gabriela is a late-teen who is getting ready for her first year at college and her new venture into adulthood. Her mother had died of cancer when she was young, and her father abandoned them while the mother’s condition deteriorated. Wanting to have a sense of understanding and closure, Gabriela goes against the advice of her “Uncle John” and finds her father in Mexico. After her father closes the door in her face, Gabriela goes out clubbing with a friend and is kidnapped by a cartel running a prostitution ring.
By the time Rambo unsuccessfully tries to free Gabriela from the cartel, recuperates from his beatdown, and comes back to successfully free her on the second attempt, she has been drugged and abused beyond recovery and dies on the way back home.
John Rambo, now having lost a foundational pillar of his civilian life, reverts to the action hero Rambo we knew from the 80’s and attacks the cartel in Mexico to lure them back to his booby-trapped tunnel system that he has under his ranch.
The final 25 minutes of the movie adequately fulfill the bloodlust of the Rambo fans in the crowd. Played out to the The Doors’ “Five to One,” Rambo finds new ways to portray brutality, from a large Hollywood explosion to a pointed rake slamming through a man’s flesh to Rambo tearing the cartel leader’s heart out with a knife.
Unfortunately for the franchise, it felt like a movie meant to be emotionally significant was directed by a director who can only make an action film. The transitions were choppy, character development was sloppy to the point where I did not care who died because I had no emotional attachment to the characters, and the plot holes were numerous.
As an example of a plot point that made me scratch my head, all of these characters freely cross the U.S.-Mexico border—a point I might be able to forgive until you see Rambo transporting an 18-year-old carcass across a heavily guarded international border. That carcass was then hand-buried by Rambo at his ranch, which made me raise the question of whether or not the authorities or the college admissions counselors might question why a teenage girl with a life and friends no longer exists and a freshly dug grave is on her Uncle’s property.
“Last Blood” was not the proper tribute to the last three decades of the Rambo series. It’s clear why the tonal change was used: John Rambo is now older, wiser and trying to live a normal life. However, it was so poorly executed that if I was to rewatch the movie I would fast forward to the last 20 minutes just to see the epic action sequence. But, fantastic action to end the movie does not make up for over an hour of a boring and poorly executed buildup. If you wanted to see “Last Blood,” skip the movie and wait for the action sequence to show up on YouTube.