Rambo: Last Blood
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Millennium Media / Balboa Productions / Templeton Media
Sylvester Stallone successfully resurrected the Rocky franchise – twice – so here he is with a second crack at bringing back Rambo. And just as the Rocky Balboa and now Creed movies succeeded on many levels [John] Rambo and now Rambo: Last Blood have shown a video-game violence overload attempting to justify the absence of real story. Rocky is all about the story. There’s some fights, but it’s never about that. It’s pure storytelling. Rambo is a first-person shooter video game. Its complete absence of logical story has been its ticket to box-office gold.
The first iterations of both Rocky and Rambo (First Blood) are great examples of the kicked and beaten underdog in American storytelling. It’s easy for people put off by the posters or bored by the sequels to mock these franchises but the flagship films in both are brilliant, taut and very much part of the great American filmmaking style and feel of the 1970s (I know First Blood is 1982 but it feels like a 70s story, possibly because its drawn from the novel of the same name which was written ten years earlier).
Rocky wasn’t smooth sailing of course – there’s something cartoonish and wonderful about the franchise at its silliest (Hulk Hogan, a Cold War storyline, amazing training montages) but there’s an integrity to character; a consistency.
Rambo though. They went open season on John Rambo as soon as they could. Maybe the story of John Rambo – as wrestled away from David Morrell’s novel and then Ted Kotcheff’s film – is a very American story. Vulnerability is for pussies, so buy heaps of guns and imagine violent fantasies. Get bigger. Get dumber.
For Rambo 5 Sylvester Stallone’s punching bag face looks like it was made from leftover baseball gloves. The older John Rambo now lives in Arizona where he tends to horses, leads a quiet life, gets the odd Vietnam flashback of course because his PTSD is a very thin, token callback rather than the compelling plot device the first film utilised. And he has a secret family that we never knew about – a niece that has helped him manage his rage and troubles. Or, you know, some shit like that. It’s all told in quick camera sweeps and saccharine score. So that you just go with it.
We can see immediately that this broken-faced man alone is going to need a quick set up to put in motion his avenging spirit. So his niece heads off to Mexico to find her estranged deadbeat dad. Rambo says no. But she goes anyway. And it’s at this point that you can almost feel Sly sloppy-whispering in Donald Trump’s ear for advice on how to run the story with the Mexicans: “They’re rapists, they’re drug-dealers”, America’s 45th President replies. And so Sly writes that down with his red crayon.
John Rambo loads up his truck and goes to find his niece when she doesn’t come home after one night.
She’s been sold out by a mate, shat on by her dad and the urban-myth stories of bad-backpacker nightmares all happen to her in about seven minutes of screen time.
So Rambo has his plotline. And right-wing America has a hero. And female characterisation is just something that happens to other people…in other movies…
There’s no wall talk. But we see some slow shots of the border wall – which is nearly the most unsubtle thing in a movie that sees more than a dozen decapitations and a heart literally ripped from a chest.
Why wasn’t this called Rambo: Last Bloodbath? Why wasn’t this called The Toxic Revenger? Why wasn’t this called Strawman Dogs?
John Rambo has taken a massive beatdown by the drug-thugs. Fucking Mexicans! And, so, near-death, he is saved by an independent investigative journalist who allows him to recoup at her house. He sleeps for four days and leaves with a brief thank you. There’s a chance several Jean Claude Van Damme films were robbed of various Oscars when you see this go-nowhere subplot.
But anyway, we’re barring up in the audience as Rambo sets his traps. He knows what’s left of the cartel is coming to try to kill him. And so he sets up bombs and various triggers (hey-ho!) for the thugs to meet their various ends.
Some people in the screening I attended started yelling “Yeah boi!” at the screen. Others never stopped.
It’s such a fucking bloodbath. Brought to you by the NRA and the makers of Xenophobia: A Real Man’s Musk.
Fuck me, Rambo 5/Last Blood is thick. Devastatingly awful. And utterly, utterly wonderful. It’s near endearingly bonkers and blood-spatter beautiful. And I wanted to see all of the carnage that was about to unfold. I started predicting it – and wishing that some of the Mexicans could have the character-quirk of being vegan. That would have required at least one decent script-edit though.
Here is a man on his own. And with his last straw (he used all the others up eating his food over the years, presumably). He cannot save himself, nor his family, but he will save the day.
You could hear gasps and whoops and hollers in the theatre-audience. This was like being back watching Jurassic Park and hearing an audience member shriek “Eat him! Eat him!” when that big-ass dino rips the lid off a porta-loo and you can see a person metaphorically (and maybe literally) shitting themselves.
Rambo. American hero. Speaking of hero-talk…
You can almost see President Bone-Spurs tweeting at 4am that if they do ever get over his wall he’d just do what John Rambo would do. He’d grab his guns and lay down his booby-traps and the fury and anger of the rich white septuagenarian would be the greatest foreign policy ever; the best. Big. Huge numbers. Huge!
So, you know, there’s a philosophical/existential downside/dread to watching and enjoying the limbs being torn, the bodies being tallied, the lonely rancher forced to revert to timebomb killing machine.
But if you block out the bad, revel in this bad-taste trash-epic popcorn-guzzle mini masterpiece you could possibly have a good, good time. I did. Is that wrong? Fuck yes it is.
Rambo: Last Blood – very much the film of 2019.
R.I.P. Rambo Franchise – you died back in 1985. But your walking-dead spirit continued long after the plot was lost.
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