Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo - Last Blood official theatrical poster.jpgDirector: Adrian Grunberg
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Rating: 18
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim aka Yenah Han, Joaquín Cosío, Óscar Jaenada

Because a franchise never truly dies, Sylvester Stallone returns to play the eponymous Rambo for the fifth time. Initially introduced as a discharged soldier, embodying the mistreatment war veterans are unfortunately subjected to, the character has since been depicted as a non-stop killing machine, racking up a film's body count with ease. The character's return is keeping in line with his later appearances, not for the better, but for the worse.

Living on a horse ranch in Arizona, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is content with his quiet life. That is all shattered, when the daughter of one of his friends is kidnapped while in Mexico. Crossing the border, Rambo quickly finds himself against the might of a violent cartel.

Back in 2015, the Rocky franchise received an unexpected shot in the arm with the magnificent Creed. What Ryan Coogler delivered was a brilliant example of how to reinvigorate a franchise that was long thought to be dead, by passing it onto the next generation in a way which made sense, while the former star stated on to help ease the transition. In regards to the other franchise which Stallone led many instalments through multiple decades, no such tactic has been taken. It seems Stallone was intent on proving he still has it, and goes about it by grimacing like somebody spat in his burger, and mumbles incoherently as though he has a mouth full of marbles. It's a decisions which feels driven by ego, and the end result doesn't feel worth it.

Working off a script by Dan Gordon and Sylvester Stallone, director Adrian Grunberg takes the reins for this latest instalment. The ensuing story sees Rambo tracking down his surrogate daughter that has been kidnapped, which leads him across the border. To paraphrase Star Wars, this version of Mexico is depicted only as a wretched hive of scum and villainy, where anyone from your past is some form of scumbag, who won't bat an eye lid when anybody on-screen for more than 5 seconds is complicit in forcing you into a cycle of drugs and sexual assault. It's a one-note depiction, which tries to form a "balance" by throwing Paz Vega in there as a reporter that's ready to help our lead. Instead, she comes as the token "good one" among the bad eggs, included as some attempt of a rebuttal against any criticisms, but serves as much purpose as putting a plaster on a gunshot wound. It especially isn't helpful when her character could have easily been excised from the film, and things would not have really changed.

It all leads to Rambo returning to his ranch, where he builds an array of violent defences, to protect him from any Mexican people who may wish to "invade" his property. It's almost as though the film is crying out "If only he had a wall to protect himself". The end result just feels like a cross between Taken and Home Alone, formed on the basis of Trump's racist comments about Mexican people. It all leaves a bad taste in the mouth, as this vile aspect lies at the core of what could've been a forgettable Direct to DVD sequel.

The final act is supposed to be the big action set-piece, which leaves a strong impression on viewers, granting them what they came to see this action film for. This one thing isn't even possible, as the choppy editing obscures the action too much, leaving the end result to look incomprehensible and amateurish. As such, we can't see much of what's happening, but it feels like the filmmakers want to reassure us that a lot of Mexican people are dying, as though that's the most important thing. It feels like some horrendous wish fulfillment, which leaves an 89 minute runtime to feel never-ending.

Rambo: Last Blood is a nasty film with a blackened heart, which reminds you why some franchises are better left dead.