A fall from grace is the polite way of describing what has happened to John Rambo. First Blood (1982) remains a fascinating commentary on the treatment of American veterans, as well as a fantastically executed action movie. But after years of ridiculous sequels, Last Blood proves that Rambo has been reduced to Hollywood cannon fodder. More than disappointing, it is outright dreadful.
In a story of white man to the rescue that has aged so poorly, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) must rescue his niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) from Mexican criminal overlords, who subsequently track the Vietnam veteran back to his ranch house to take him down for good. For such a short film, it feels like an age before anything dramatic happens. When things do finally kick into gear, you’ll be holding your head in your hands. This is not a thriller attacked with the intelligence of Widows (2018) or the style of this year’s John Wick: Chapter 3. This is brazen, unrepentant buffoonery at its least self-aware.
Last Blood reminds everyone how much the world has moved on without Rambo. The whole film has horribly outdated stereotypes that distract from the action. All the Mexican characters are either criminals, prostitutes or servants. Mexico itself is reduced to the crime-ridden hellhole that the worst of the Trump fandom would insist represents the whole nation fairly. Such a xenophobic moral hierarchy borders on the disgusting.
The violence threatens to fall either side of excessive and comical, with so much gore you’re unsure where to look. The climax especially has some very stupid deaths (even if some are in the spirit of First Blood). The camera confusingly never focuses on Rambo’s victims for too long, cutting away quickly as if you aren’t supposed to see what Rambo is capable of. This is just one of the ways that Last Blood leaves you infuriated with every little decision made by director Adrian Grunberg. Almost nothing feels right.
Matt Cirulnick and Stallone’s screenplay makes a half-hearted effort to go places. What you get instead is a first half that feels very out of step with what comes afterwards. Some very early (and very superficial) efforts are made trying to peer into the mental and emotional state of Rambo following years of violence. They fall flat, feeling like wastes of time rather than meaningful insights. Stallone himself does a decent job of carrying Rambo’s weight on his shoulders, but lacks any gravitas and he can’t carry the film. The result is a lacklustre plod through vaguely intense scenarios – that is, when you can actually see what is happening through the moody, barely lit shots.
The character of Rambo, alongside other movies of the time like Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Deer Hunter (1978), set the tone for the movie industry’s bleak and often violent contribution to America’s attempt to regather itself after Vietnam. When collective consciousness did move on, he became the victim of a decade where the macho action man was the go to. Some have aged better than others, but Last Blood is definitive proof that this character will not be bowing out in a blaze of glory. Rather, it will be a slow passing as Stallone drags his character through the muck of Rambo’s final days.
Rambo: Last Blood is in cinemas now.