The arrival of Rambo: Last Blood really saddened me. I mean, by a whole lot. Gone are the familiar silhouette of the great Sylvester Stallone, usually topless, with long flowing black locks, wielding a rifle in each of his hands. Instead, we were greeted by such a poster above, featuring a fully clothed man, with short, gray hairs, striking a pose with his bow. Is that really John Rambo? It is said that all good things have to end, even with such popular film series like Rambo. But is this goodbye necessary?
I’ve even jokingly regarded Rambo as seemingly turning into rodeo when the initial trailer sneaked out. But now at this juncture, I found my mocking to be of bad taste. People love Rambo. And Stallone is not in his prime physique to dish out Rambo films like he used to be, anymore.
Last Blood was co-written by Stallone himself, as with its predecessor, the 2008 film which was simply named Rambo. However, breaking away from the trend is the change of director in the movie. Rambo (2008) was directed by Stallone. Rambo: Last Blood was not. Instead, Adrian Grunberg assumed the directorial chair for this installment.
Needless to say, Sylvester Stallone reprised his iconic role as John Rambo, a war veteran who is constantly tormented by his past. His pain and grief is perfectly showcased in the introductory chapter of the film, which I opine is properly weighted and soaks the audience into the darker side of his world. Somehow, the sight of the aging Stallone coupled with his beaten-up facial expression, and the fact that the story was focusing on his tormented state really crushed my heart greatly.
However, the aspect that soon ensued and disconnected me from the film was a line-up of cast that does not matter much within the film itself. Even for a film that bears such an iconic name in the title, supporting characters do matter, and will make or break the movie. As for the case of Last Blood, there was some nasty conflict between the overall story concept and the screenplay. The story wants the characters, by large the closest ones to John Rambo, to be important. After-all, the family-like ties would eventually be the spark that ignites the events that define the name, Last Blood.
The screenplay, however, worships Rambo and Rambo alone, and seems to forget the rest. This considerably downgraded the existence of such supporting characters. A pretty widespread issue with action-heavy films spanning across all eras, if you ask me.
On top of that, the issue with the lesser characters continues with their leg-pulling performances, that it was starting to put the credibility of the story at risk. Yes, some are undoubtedly eye candies, but beyond that, there was very little that they could do to strengthen the plot. Even from the start, it was evident that Stallone wants to make the film great, it’s just that the performances of the supporting characters had a different agenda. That was until the real villains show up, then, some character presence outside of John Rambo can be felt.
Still, if you were trying hard to figure out how the petty, minuscule events in the first act are able to carry the audience towards a fully cooked John Rambo level of conflict, then, you are not alone. I did the same, enduring the hastily pieced-together episodes, with only one thing in my mind. “What a boring life that John Rambo has to go through daily. So what’s next?”
Things just happened rapidly without strong reasons, and there was zero build-up along the way. Nevertheless, as soon as the villains made their first appearance, it suddenly became crystal clear as how the story was going to play out. Perhaps, it’s too clear. Strangely, the events which had already happened before that point emerged as an explanation, or simply as justification towards any amount of pain which Rambo was going to inflict on the baddies further down the road. The occurrence that sits early on the chronological order now becomes the afterthought.
Like a smartphone that switches into night mode, the second half of the film gets more violent and gloomy as it’s tainted by more and more blood. And if you haven’t seen this coming, this is also where it gets a little interesting. And I am not even complaining about the excessive violence and gore at all, because, save for a few overdone scenes, most of such scenes oddly lean me towards the satisfying scale rather than the nauseating one.
As things are building up towards the climax and the number of casualties rise, I have only one word to say; brutal. Is this the perfect dosage of bloodshed-action that pleases all fans of action films? Definitely not. Sometimes, gore might be overdone and even borders on being questionable. But there is no doubt that it is within this bombastic brutality that Last Blood has rediscovered itself again, after that unpleasantly long hibernation in the first two acts.
It definitely becomes more convincing as a Rambo movie as the chapter moves into the film’s most painful moments, striking familiar flavors with the film series’ early pioneers from the late 80’s and 90’s. It’s loud in nature. It’s raw, gory, with a little hide-and-seek thrown into the mix. And definitely old-fashioned.
No doubt, it is definitely the old-fashioned approach of Last Blood that sets it apart from modern action flicks like Equalizer 2 (2018) and Angel Has Fallen (2019), and make it thrive within the nostalgic spaces of seasoned action-movie lovers. No drone attacks. No technologically advanced weapons. Only guns, knives, and perhaps, a bow and arrows?
In spite of what Last Blood has to offer during the final act, it still could not deviate from that dreaded question: is the film necessary? I think it’s unnecessary because it has lost the majority of its charm, charisma and perhaps part of its identity, considering the current state that Stallone is in, and the cityscape backdrop that Last Blood has been playing against. It is understandable that a Rambo film will feel more at home with a tropical forest setting, but with the strict direction that the story was heading, it’s just not possible. If I have to be brutally honest, it felt more like a Liam Neeson flick than a Rambo movie.
On the other hand, I think it is a necessary goodbye towards one of the most iconic film series to date, and I am glad that it came sooner as opposed to later. Though it might be seen as one last attempt to milk-out any remaining revenue from the Rambo franchise, the film’s intention to make an exit is a noble one and is such a rarity nowadays. Yes, Arnie is 72 as of the date of writing this, and yet they still plan on kick-starting a trilogy with his upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate.
At one glance, Rambo: Last Blood is almost unrecognizable, as the film strayed too far away from the core ideas behind previous Rambo films. The underdeveloped characters constantly cloud the mediocre plot, and together with the story’s insistence on getting a little too up-close and personal with John Rambo, the effects are rather undermining towards the movie. Nonetheless, movie fans who are seeking for a tiny blast from the past, as well as those who wished for one last Rambo film may find thrills within the loud, 90’s style bloodshed-action. And yes, the closing scenes of Last Blood are rather sentimental and gripping. After the film ends, at least, stay until someone rides into the mountains for the full effect–The Film Addict