movie reviews

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ chooses violent fantasy over final word on tragic character

With the title Rambo: Last Blood, you get everything you need to know about this movie. It’s the last stand of John Rambo, a character who already received a fitting ending in 2008’s Rambo.

Sylvester Stallone should’ve just left Rambo on that Arizona ranch, training horses and repairing tractors for the rest of his life. His Vietnam veteran turned virtual superhero finally left war, service to his country, and his self-imposed exile in Thailand behind. But maybe Stallone saw Logan two years ago and thought Rambo could get a final story like that. 

Stallone should’ve left it alone, man. A better version of this story exists in Rambo: Last Blood, but Stallone and the other two writers credited who worked on this script, nor director Adrian Grunberg, aren’t interested in exploring how a man trained to be a weapon can’t escape violence, can’t truly find peace. Maybe he should’ve traveled to Neptune with Brad Pitt. 

If this was the same John Rambo introduced in First Blood nearly 40 years ago — which is a really good movie — maybe we would’ve gotten that kind of story. If a director with an outside, more personal view, like Ryan Coogler had with Creed, maybe that kind of movie could’ve been made. But I doubt many creators have that same connection to the Rambo character. 

Besides, Stallone turned Rambo into a caricature, a machine-gun lugging superhero killing machine, and never came back from that. Rambo II and III tried to say something about how POWs were treated and, interestingly, the then-Soviet Union’s role in arming Afghanistan. But mostly, they were about blowing shit up real good, excessive violence, and Stallone showing off his fantastic, generously oiled physique. (Hey, man — he looked great.) 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to act like I’m above or didn’t like those films. I like big action and violence as much as anyone. There were so many of those kinds of movies in the 1980s too. I practically grew up on them. Give Stallone credit for knowing what he did really well and giving the people what they wanted. He’s still doing that to this day, though the nostalgic appetite for Rambo isn’t the same as for Rocky Balboa. 

What’s kind of strange about this movie is that there isn’t really a connection to the previous Rambo films. Maybe that’s good; you don’t need to have seen the other four movies. But then, I don’t know why you’d bother seeing Last Blood if you had no connection to Rambo or affection for him. Maybe if you’re a Stallone fan? 

Or you just know that this is going to be a gratuitously violent bloodbath, much like the fourth Rambo movie was, and that’s your thing. If so, you’ll love this movie. (Hey, a movie about a vengeful uncle who’s really good at combat? I’m the target audience!)

The violence here is so ridiculous, so excessive, that it’s actually kind of funny. Rambo: Last Blood probably works best as a black comedy, like what John Rambo dreams of inflicting upon the evils in this world. 

The better title for this would’ve been Rambo: Overkill. That could be applied to the number of people he slaughters in vengeance. But it’s more appropriate for the way Rambo terminates most of the sex trafficking cartel’s operative with extreme prejudice. Almost every guy Rambo takes out first gets impaled with some kind of pitchfork, spike, or spear. Then, if that wasn’t enough, Rambo walks by and blows their head into pieces with a sawed-off shotgun. 

This could also be called Rambo: Chekhov’s Gun because everything that’s referenced, a booby trap that Rambo is building, blades that he’s sharpening, shells full of magnesium shards — you see how he uses all of that stuff. This is a grindhouse movie, man. Blood, bones, brain, entrails are all over the screen. And the end — oh my god, the end — in which a figure of speech is acted out literally. Hilarious!

Someday, someone should clip the climactic footage and recut it as a slasher film. (Maybe I’ll take a swing at a short story from the point of view of the henchmen.) Not to say these bad guys don’t deserve it. We’re talking about drug-dealing sex traffickers who kidnap young girls and ruin their lives. But Rambo is working out some issues here. 

To the writers’ credit, there are at least two things that happen in the story that were unexpected, which makes this movie more intriguing than it probably otherwise would’ve been. But Rambo: Last Blood is still not a very good movie that’s virtually impossible to take seriously. And it’s not the final tale that a character which could’ve had some interesting things to say to an audience deserves.

Stallone could’ve made that movie, but he did this instead. To me, the final credits underline that point, rather than serve as the tribute intended. 

Rambo: Last Blood might be worth checking out on streaming or cable when it’s available, especially if you’re in the mood for some explosive violence, love Sylvester Stallone, or want to play drinking games with the multiple stabbings, beheadings, broken limbs, and obliterated craniums. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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