Rambo: Last Blood and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Adrian Grunberg
Not sure if this counts as a hot take, but I’ve always felt that of the two major Stallone franchises (the other being Rocky), Rambo was the lesser of the two. First Blood wasn’t quite as good as the first Rocky, Rocky had better sequels, and even when it came to deconstructing the franchise I thought that Rocky Balboa was better than Rambo 2008. Now that we’ve gotten to the post-deconstruction continuation for Rocky which did a phenomenal job with both Creed movies, I guess it’s time for Stallone to give good ol’ John one last adventure on the silver screen. Does this latest and possibly last Rambo adventure measure up to the better films of the series, or will this be the movie that finally makes us all realize that Rambo 3 wasn’t ALL bad? Let’s find out!!
Not long after the events of Rambo 2008, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) moved back to his family ranch and is living with what little family he has left; his niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) and her grandmother Maria (Adriana Barraza). It’s now the present and young Gabrielle has grown up while John has started to settle down and has diverted a lot of his negative energy towards building a complex series of tunnels underneath his ranch which if nothing else is better than getting into fist fights in Thailand. As great as this peaceful existence has been, something terrible is about to happen that will change their lives forever!! Gabrielle… is going on a trip! TO MEXICO!! Yes, apparently a friend of hers who lives there (Fenessa Pineda) has found Gabrielle’s estranged father and is inviting her down there to meet him. Rambo however knows that… I don’t know, Mexico is full of bad guys or something, and is about as skeptical of her going to Mexico as Liam Neeson was of his daughter going to Europe. Sure enough, the exact same thing more or less happens as Gabrielle gets taken by bad guys the same day she gets there and Rambo has to save her; presumably without rubbing her nose in it TOO much that he was right to not trust THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OF MEXICO. Can Rambo make it in time to save Gabrielle from whatever horrific fate awaits her on the other side of the border? Will Rambo unleash the beast that has been brewing inside of him for all these years, and is it enough to get him out of one last battle? Can someone please tell me why I’m watching a Rambo movie that’s absolutely NOTHING like a Rambo movie? Can someone point me to who’s responsible for whatever this is!?
WOW is this movie utter trash! To say that this movie is merely lesser than the Creed films is an astonishing understatement. Comparing this movie to those two, heck comparing it to the OTHER Rambo films (yes even the third one), is too good for this reactionary nonsense that has absolutely ZERO understanding of what made First Blood so great in the first place. It’s a cowardly movie on the level of London Has Fallen that thoughtlessly (or perhaps even intentionally) caters to the worst among us and perpetuates very nasty and INCREDIBLY false narratives about Latino people that have contributed to the current crisis at our border and throughout the country. If anyone wants to try and say that I should judge the movie on its own and not in the context of the world we’re currently living in, I kindly ask you to go somewhere else and take this garbage fire of a film with you. Neither of you will be missed.
So let’s get the big racist elephant out of the way first; this movie relies heavily on Latino stereotypes and white fears of Mexico. Newsflash people! Sex slavers are not looking for AMERICAN woman to fill their bordellos; they’re looking for women in their own (or nearby) countries TO SELL TO AMERICANS!! And yet this movie goes all in on the idea that Mexico is an unimaginable cesspit where good honest Americans can’t spend more than five minutes in without getting robbed, enslaved, or worse. The bad guys’ entire freaking plan here makes the least amount of sense possible for maximum fear mongering. Gabrielle’s friend goes through the effort of finding her father (incidentally every single Latino man in this movie is a complete monster other than a doctor who’s in one scene and has nothing to do with the plot) and ASSUMED everything would go poorly enough that she can take her to a club where someone ELSE will take her to use as a sex slave. Here’s an idea! Her friend KNOWS that her uncle is a dude with a ranch which implies SOME sort of wealth, so why not make it a KIDNAPPING where it would make sense to target her specifically? The reason why of course is because a kidnapping with some degree of logic to it isn’t nearly as scary as the senseless and sexualized brutality that Gabrielle has to go through, and I guess Rambo’s hate boner couldn’t stay up long enough if all the brown people he was killing weren’t the most cartoonish and monstrous stereotypes imaginable. Speaking of stereotypes, this is also one of those movies where you can tell who is a good guy or bad guy by the way they dress and the darkness of their skin. Gabrielle is fairly light skinned as is a reporter Rambo meets down there (everyone in Mexico is either a sex trafficking criminal or a victim of them), but the moment you see her friend with darker skin, lots of makeup, and a stereotypical cholo outfit, you can tell exactly what’s going to happen and how dreadful it will be to sit through. If this movie wanted to say ANYTHING genuine about sex slavery or the state of things in Mexico, they needed to do some actual freaking research and be more specific than they are here. Heck, I’m pretty sure they don’t even specify what CITY this is in and just lets the implication that THIS IS ALL OF MEXICO hang over this like a fart in an elevator. I’m not an expert on any of the subjects this movie builds itself around, but none of it feels the least bit real and it’s utterly disheartening to see how intentional it all is for a franchise that certainly had its ups and downs but never stooped as low as this one in terms of jingoistic xenophobia.
Now I haven’t seen any of the Rambo sequels in a while, so maybe I’m thinking back on them with a bit of rose tinted nostalgia but I remember even the bad ones having WAY more redeeming qualities than this film has. The first movie is a genuinely great examination of the uncomfortable realities that veterans had to face in America after they gave so much in the war, and sure it was ALSO a darn good action movie, but it had heart to it and a message worth saying which elevated it above its cathartic machismo set pieces. Things took a REALLY steep downward spiral with the second and third film, but at least as far as I remember they don’t manage to sink anywhere close to the xenophobic rhetoric that seeps through every moment of this latest garbage heap. Rambo 2008 attempted to bring it all together the same way Rocky Balboa did, and I’d say it mostly succeeded in reflecting on who this character is and giving him a nice ending to go out on. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, about this movie doesn’t live up to either the first one, the fourth one, and I’m pretty confident in saying two or three either. Where the Rambo films were at their best when they pondered on the mistakes of its main character and the country he fought for, this one has absolutely nothing to say about that. You’d think that MAYBE a character who himself was captured and tortured by a foreign government would have something to say about our country doing the same thing with asylum seekers at the border, but nope! Mexicans are dealing drugs, committing crimes, raping Americans, but I assume Rambo thinks some of them are good people; as long as they don’t wear baggy pants or have anything nice to say about their culture or the country they come from. A better version of this is Gran Torino which has its own problems in terms of negative stereotypes and leaning into the old white man as savior trope (teach these youngsters a lesson and all that), but it’s still basically everything this movie should have been if it wanted to do a story like this. That movie had room for characters of color who were not one dimensional, AND it had something to say about what living a life of violence does to someone which is what I THOUGHT the Rambo films were all about, and yet here we are with a movie that gives a big ol’ thumbs up to brutality, anger, revenge, and closing yourself off to the rest of the world. Great. This is the best of timelines for sure.
If there’s ONE positive thing about this movie, it’s the third act action scene. If you forget EVERYTHING that is wrong, hateful, and just plain clunky about this movie, there are some really nice kills here with some very good gore effects. In a BETTER Rambo movie, these would be the cathartic payoff to a movie that at least had a bit of self-awareness of its gleeful excesses and it might actually have antagonists that you can feel something about. Sadly this is a TERRIBLE Rambo movie and when it did get to the blood I could only get so invested in it. None of the villains are anything more than paper thin stereotypes, there’s not really any back and forth to the violence as Rambo is in control throughout the entire sequence, and sure enough the violence occurs completely unexamined. It’s cathartic but for all the wrong reasons where you’re just watching splatter effects at best or are genuinely into the idea of killing brown caricatures at worst. Besides, you can find decent gore scenes in plenty of other movies; so while this does it well enough with a crescendo that’s actually pretty amazing, it just not worth sitting through everything else to see it.
How did we go from Rambo fighting cops in a vain attempt to push back against the realities of America’s failings during the Vietnam War to him basically waving a flag on the Mexican border telling everyone on the other side not to mess with us? Maybe it was naïve of me to expect Sylvester Stallone to have enough understanding of this character and what makes him better than a lot of other action heroes to fall into such lazy , but I guess if there’s a single positive thing about all this, maybe it’s worth reexamining why we enjoyed those movies in the first place? I mean SOMEONE must have thought this was a reasonable direction to take the character and Stallone must have agreed, so if there’s a miniscule silver lining here I might finally rewatch those movies and will now see them with less nostalgic eyes, so thanks Stallone for ruining my childhood a tiny bit more. Do not watch this movie. HECK no! The only reason you’d ever want to see it is because it’s within the context of the Rambo films and if you’re interested in watching a series completely devolve around a similarly despicable political climate, well then I GUESS there’s a solid action sequence in the end to soften the sharp and unpleasant edges that the rest of the movie has. Ugh, now I’m terrified that someone’s gonna get the bright idea to try and do another Demolition Man. DON’T TAKE THAT ONE AWAY FROM ME TOO, STALLONE!!