Rambo: Last Blood just came out and is dividing people. Critics are throwing shade at it everywhere. Even Sylvester Stallone is putting distance between himself and the flexing political statement John Rambo turned into.
Audiences, though, are loving it. It’s Rambo. The name alone is a semiotic explosion of 80s pop culture, action cliches, and preconceived notions of American badassery. We know who and what this guy is supposed to be and hell if it doesn’t come with a big knife, explosions, and heaps of comic-book death-dealing.
Ten years after his last round of bloodshed (Rambo, 2008), John Rambo (Stallone) is back home on the family farm raising horses. He has a good life now and became a father figure to his college-bound, possibly unrelated niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal, a cast member of the upcoming Stargirl series), who has a life ahead of her but she wants closure from the biological father who abandoned her.
To get it, Gabrielle has to head to Mexico and meet up with a shady friend who doesn’t come around much. Despite the pleas of Rambo and her granny/family retainer (I guess) Maria (Adriana Barraza), she gets in her car and turns around in the direction of the border. Sadly the family reunion doesn’t go as she hoped — her dad is as cold and heartless as she was warned — and some ill-advised clubbing, topped off with a spiked drink, puts her in the clutches of a sex trafficking ring.
“Uncle John” finds out and has to get nasty, a mood they won’t like him in. How unfortunate, every time he tries to get out, Rambo is pulled back in, which is bad news for everybody in his way.
What’s So Bad About It?
When you hear “bad” it implies something is wrong with the film’s mechanics — acting, editing — or the effects are unfinished. That’s not the case with Last Blood. Stallone delivers one of his better performances and the special effects are mostly, if not all, practical and quite convincing. One scene shows Rambo pulling the collar bone out of a trafficker’s shoulder and, aside from rubbery skin, it looks real and brutal.
So it isn’t production values or a perceived B-quality of the picture. No, critics have an underlying problem with the politics of Stallone and the hawkish blackhearted John Rambo, who goes through hell to find and rescue his niece. He confronts, weeds out, and exterminates pimps and human traffickers (Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Óscar Jaenada) protected by corruption.
As part of that effort, he has to go to Mexico to sort some people out. The depiction of the country and some of its people might rub a few the wrong way. But, Last Blood is not inherently anti-Mexican, it’s anti-crime because, as a wise man once said, that weed bears bitter fruit. Most of whom the crooks hurt and exploit are, guess what, also Mexican — that includes Gabrielle.
And Rambo, in all, is an equal-opportunity misanthrope. He may have helped the Christian missionaries out of their Scooby caper in the 2008 film, but he wasn’t above getting pessimistically real with them either.
First to Last Blood
Rambo does what fan fiction writers have undoubtedly had him do: stabbing his way through brothels, chopping off heads, turning his homestead into a death trap, and cutting out an enemy’s heart. You could call it “Revenge Porn” but it’s no worse than what we get in IT Chapter 2 and what we will probably see in Joker. Over and above that, Lionsgate gave us American Psycho and the Saw franchise so anyone buying a ticket shouldn’t require a warning.
And there are real stakes. Rambo’s newfound peaceful existence gets flipped upside down by a tragedy befalling next of kin. Gabrielle is a daughter to him and there are genuinely moving moments between the two. He doesn’t want to see her get hurt like he was. This is the story of a man confronting his demons and his failures.
Ben Affleck’s Batman conveyed fleetingly the fatalist view the world only makes sense when pounded into submission. In Rambo: Last Blood, we get a clearer picture of that idea in effect with Stallone closer to the end than the obsolete Batfleck.
This is for sure the Last Blood for Rambo and should be; they went to the trouble of putting together an Endgame-style clip montage in the finale to prove it. Is it Hellboy bad or Child’s Play bad? No. Last Blood is Rambo giving the guy-movie people what they want.
Rambo does what he promises from the outset and gets bloody vengeance and gets to enjoy the bittersweet victory, like Thanos except John Rambo is popular because he is the people’s antihero. He has an audience he’s geared for, and they know what to expect if they saw the last one. Anybody else should already know to stay far away.
Seeing it myself, I hope for one thing: a second Cobra movie, at least, before all is said and done. Please, Sly, make it happen.
- Last Blood feels long but in an engaging way.
- It might go down as one of the best in the series.
- Stallone is good as ever even without the trademark bandana.
- More of those jarring extreme close-ups modern filmmakers are so enamored of.
- There are stereotypical caricatures here and there of Mexicans that, if they offend, do so because they are so dated.