Rambo: Last Blood

Reviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 01/17/20 12:53:45

"A Not-Bad Sequel"
3 stars (Just Average)

Check your brain at the door, don't expect extraordinary craftsmanship, be willing to forgive a lot of wooden dialogue, and this is eighty-nine minutes of passable entertainment.

Rambo: Last Blood has been critically lambasted from coast to coast, but it's not a movie anyone really needs to be ashamed of. In fact, its strongest individual scenes are on par with those from some better action pictures. After a satisfying wrap-up with the 2008 Rambo this sequel was completely unnecessary in that after two decades of Sylvester Stallone's Vietnam War hero John Rambo mistreated by ignorant police hicks in an Oregon town, decimating the North Vietnamese to rescue American POWs, coming to the aid of Afghanistan rebels against the Russians, rescuing American chapel aid workers in war-torn Burma, he's more than proved his quintessential altruism and considerable fighting prowess. The last sequel appropriately ended with Rambo finally going back to his family's homestead in rural Bowie, Arizona for the first time since joining the military; here, nine years later, he's taking medications for his PTSD and fortifying his ranch with labyrinth underground tunnels while trying to smooth out his existence by training horses. Rambo has finally managed to settle himself into something of a tranquil life, but he's forever fighting his darker nature to avoid regressing back to his violent former self, and he soon gets his wish when his seventeen-year-old surrogate niece sets out to a crime-filled Mexico pueblo to locate the father who abandoned her and her mother several years before. When face-to-face at his doorstep she realizes he's a conscienceless monster, only she doesn't realize her compunction-deprived best friend who helped locate him is in cahoots with sex traffickers - when she convinces the niece to go to a nightclub afterward to forget about things, she's abducted, drugged and forced to work in a whorehouse with oodles of other female slaves. When Rambo learns of this he is if course hell-bent on the most visceral revenge imaginable, and God help those who think him incapable of it because of his advanced age. (In the outstanding second sequel, a ruthless Russian general remarks to Rambo's former commanding officer Colonel Trautman, "Are you insane? One man against an army of trained commandos. Who do you think this man is? God?" to which Trautman makes clear, "No. God would have mercy. He won't.")

As with the other entries, Rambo: First Blood exploits a serious issue, and though it doesn't suitably develop it you can at least respect it on a basic apprehensive level. Who hasn't wanted merciless sex traffickers to be gruesomely taken out? But the movie doesn't take the time to get its bearings. We've no earthly idea who the older Hispanic woman who's been sharing house duties with Rambo for all these years, or just who this teenager is in genuine relation to him - there's a frustrating shorthand quality to the proceedings that's borderline-offensive on a contextual level. Hardly anything in Rambo: Last Blood is thought-out, and more than a few times you're curious just how you're supposed to read a scene (when Rambo allows himself to be disarmed and severely beaten by several of the trafficker's henchmen, my response was, "This isn't the Rambo character I've known all this time"). Mind you, there's nothing necessarily wrong with a primordial hero in a primordial action movie teeming with machismo, and for the most part Rambo: Last Blood succeeds because it adequately adheres to a standard revenge-tale template and is engineered with something slightly above mere competence. The director, Adrian Grunberg, whose only other feature film is the unfairly-ignored Mel Gibson star vehicle Get the Gringo, handles things well enough without any semblances of distinction - he's doing what's expected of him, nothing more, so he's incapable of elevating the mediocre screenplay to a higher level so the majority of the movie is stuck on autopilot. Still, it works and is consistently involving, though Stallone is a bit stiff this time around and doesn't give us both the variety and verity he magnificently displayed in his self-directed Rambo, but his ever-present mystique remains undeniable. Some have inanely dismissed Rambo: Last Blood as xenophobic MAGA-hat propaganda, which is, quite frankly, absurd. Since Rambo's ranch is located in southern Arizona, and sex trafficking is rampant around the border, his formidable foes here seem perfectly legitimate to me. Yes, they're one-dimensional baddies, but so were Rambo's enemies in the other pictures excepting those in First Blood, and those who fought along beside him were men of color. The grand finale is indeed quite the garish bloodbath, but then so was the one in Rambo that left not so much as a smidgen of bodily harm to the imagination. Call the movie ludicrous all you want, but indulging in knee-jerk cries of "Racism!" is flat-out unfounded and willingly ignorant of this series as a whole. For all its many faults, Rambo: Last Blood is far from a standout conclusion to the Rambo saga, but on its own terms it manages to deliver at least half the desired goods.

Check out 1988's "Rambo III," the best of the lot.

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