Rambo: Last Blood REVIEW – Everybody’s Hurt

This is definitely no Creed.

Cultured Vultures spoilers

The fifth and final installment in the Rambo series opens by panning across the various weapons our titular character once wielded, from bowie knife to thirty-aught-six, but stops at his newest artillery – pain medication. This Vietnam veteran’s last stand is against his diminishing place in the world. So long as there is violence at arm’s length, John Rambo finds his purpose in extinguishing it. Yet because Rambo, on the verge of retirement, still seems unaware of what to do with his role as the king of violence, he appears more frail than furious. He’s the same Rambo from 1982 and that fixed nature makes for a forceful, but unsurprising finale.

John Rambo is living with a friend’s family who took him in as their own, and Stallone carries the warrior-orphan mantle throughout the whole film with pride. Maria, a Latina given no other characteristics beyond the raising of her niece, is, with the help of John as her ad-hoc father, about to fulfill ideal parenthood by sending a child off to college. Yet Gabrielle has questions about her past that need answering before she can move on. John Rambo has spent his twilight years trying to secure a future for Gabrielle, to send someone down a better path than his own. Everyone is missing something in this movie and needs someone else to fill that lack on their behalf. Gabrielle and Maria are missing any semblance of a healthy partnership, let alone male ones, and Stallone is missing the full mobility of his cheekbones. Life, like fame, is hazardous.

Set in the borderlands between Arizona and Mexico, a contentious political ground the film makes zero overt mention of, we come to find out the opening scene is in a labyrinth of tunnels Rambo dug out beneath their farmland. Viewers with a pulse on U.S. foreign policy can see that Last Blood references the tunnels used to carry contraband and migrants back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, as a way of saying there are “right” and “wrong” tunnels. Bad tunnels let the bad guys in, and good tunnels make the bad guys die. Discussions this narrow hurt all parties involved, and every facet of this film walks away limping. Before we get to the promised gratuitous death in every way imaginable (including a Temple of Doom heart shucking), there’s the tragic tale of the men in Gabrielle’s life.

Gabrielle’s father abandoned her when she was young, and her mother died inexplicably before that. She is haunted by this fact, and ends up traveling to Mexico because she has to know why he left before she goes to college and tries to become something. A friend named Giselle, who used to live in Arizona but moved to Mexico, says she found her dad and would help her reconnect with him. Rambo and Maria try to convince Gabrielle to let it go, but just like Rambo, who left for war at an early age, she is hell bent on getting her answers her way. In a matter of one day her father Manuel says “You and your mother were a waste of my time”, she gets roofied in a club by a pimp and sold into a sex trafficking ring. Rambo tracks her down through the Brutus-like Giselle who sold Gabrielle off, finds his way to ‘El Flaco’ and snaps his collarbone to use as a joy-stick directing him towards the next boss battle.

Video games of old were allowed to have fairly thin storylines if their gameplay and mechanics were engaging enough. Rambo takes this approach as gospel. John Rambo tries to bumrush the offender’s hideout but gets beaten close to death. Hugo Martinez, the military arm of The Martinez Brothers, brands Rambo’s face with a V. His brother Victor, who runs the trafficking division of the cartel, promises to torture Gabrille because of this attempt. A journalist named Carmen rescues Rambo and helps him recover for four days in her home. She explains to him just who The Martinez Brothers are, and that her sister was taken by them too. Rambo the Warrior Orphan barges into a known brothel, murdering every man with a single hammer, and finds Gabrielle strung out and abused on the top floor.

Instead of taking Gabrielle to a hospital after an unsuccessful solo rescue mission precipitates the worst events of her life, Rambo decides to haul it home to Arizona. He becomes the eidolon of stubborn, violence-first decision-making in this final act and figures he shouldn’t take his foot off the gas. Last Blood could have offered a harrowing take on the last days of a veteran wracked by PTSD. Instead, the film plays like a grandpa doing things his good old fashioned way, except while armed to the teeth and vilifying Mexicans. Gabrielle’s life is marred by a series of men who progressively care less and less about her, and I’ll leave it to the viewer to decide whether his final acts nominate him captain or cut him from that team.

John Rambo is a man out of time and even out of genre. Rambo raised horses and traded in his military fatigues for a jean jacket on that Arizona farm. Since previous Rambo films ensconced him as soldier supreme, why not try conquering cowboy mythology by attacking its roots – the vaqueros of Mexico. Somewhere during the big payback you realize you’ve been watching Man on Fire by way of Home Alone, a synthesis unimagined until now. Rambo taunts The Martinez Brothers to come find him by murdering a few of their men and the final battle takes place in the tunnels he has mastered, a symbol for his own psyche, which would be more accurate if he accidentally locked himself inside.

You knew Rambo was going to be cheesy, you may have figured it was going to be tragic, and it nails both of those marks while including offensive as a bonus. One-dimensional villains are nothing new to action films, especially for this series. Releasing a film that depicts Mexicans as bloodthirsty and cunning while the President of the U.S. uses the same tropes to justify horrors isn’t just bad timing. Piggybacking on fearmongering to market your film is an ancient practice that, like our title character, doesn’t become more acceptable with age. John Rambo is a man unable to see beyond what life has cost him, so it’s fitting Last Blood ends with one last casualty: a non-refundable ticket.

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A film that should’ve passed the Rambo series torch like Rocky did to Creed ends mired in redundancy. It’s no fun unless you’re really into the Faces of Death series.