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Review: Rambo exits with a bang and a whimper in 'Last Blood'

Posted Friday, December 20, 2019 at 2:33 PM Central

by John Couture

Is it possible to prove both sides of a dichotomy? Can you both be good and evil? Right and wrong? Entertaining and boring?

For Rambo: Last Blood, that last dichotomy rings pretty true. I found that the action sequences were up to the usual high Rambo standards, but the story failed the character that became a counter-culture anti-hero in First Blood. It was almost as if there were two competing forces behind the camera and the fans ended up losing.

As a lifelong (First Blood came out when I was 8) fan of the Rambo films, I was hoping that Last Blood would finally give the character the closure that he so desperately deserved. This was a man who not only served his country faithfully but still bled red, white and blue when his own country turned its back on him.

As a Vietnam vet, he was a stranger in a post-Cold War world and yet he was still a valuable commodity to the right people looking for a little vengeance. You could say that in Last Blood that vengeance becomes personal and things just sort of fall flat.

John Rambo has settled down in Arizona, but try as he might, violence just seems to find him. When his friend's granddaughter is kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel, Rambo returns to his one-man army status and invades Mexico looking for the missing girl.

First, let me be clear that the set up above is completely accurate. I found the action and death scenes to be some of the best work in the franchise but the story was completely superfluous, even by Rambo standards. So, I both loved and loathed different aspects of the film, which makes it really hard to review such an uneven experience.

Off the top, I was saddened to find John Rambo in a celibate relationship basically living in solitude. From the first movie, I always sort of envisioned that eventually, John would get his happily ever after with a family, but I suppose this surrogate family is as close as he will ever get. I'm sure he takes pleasure from the serenity of raising horses without the distractions of romantic entanglements, but I just find the lack of a true emotional connection disappointing later on in the movie.

It's painfully clear that the characters of Maria and Gabriela are only in the film long enough to set up the confrontation between Rambo and the Martinez brothers, Victor and Hugo. No, that's not a typo, the writers, which included Sylvester Stallone, actually named their antagonists after the French poet and writer most famous for his magnum opus Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I'm not sure if Sly was trying to make an allusion between Rambo and Jean Valjean, but the comparison fails on so many levels that it's not even worth the effort to connect the dots. Needless to say, both protagonists spent their lives misunderstood and trying to escape their past with as much gusto as possible. But, even Jean Valjean was able to experience true love and never had to result in massive body counts to make his point.

Without this true connection, the characters that Rambo is avenging just feel flat and his motivations unclear. As I mentioned, it's all set up for a massive third act confrontation where all of the bodies hit the floor, to crib Drowning Pool. And let me be clear, the violence is glorious, superfluous and some of the best scenes that the franchise has given us.

So where does that leave us? Well, the one idea that I think they were trying to impart on the audience, but sadly gets lost amid all of the blood is that not only is Rambo trying to deal with his past, but he's also getting older. Sylvester Stallone is 73 years old, so he's no spring chicken anymore.

To that end, he is relying more on his cunning and smarts (where did they come from again?) to enact his violent means than sheer brutality. That means less hand-to-hand combat, but bigger body counts. Also, since society has become more exposed to violence and a bit numb to it, Rambo ratchets up the brutality factor by at least 10 and you will find some pretty graphic kills that would seem at home in the John Wick franchise.

When it's all said and done, John Rambo literally rides off into the sunset. No, I'm not kidding. And before you call me a spoiler, did anyone really think that the franchise would end with Rambo's death? Of course, if it did, that might be one of the boldest moves ever for a large action franchise.

But will Rambo: Last Blood truly be the last time we see the PTSD-suffering Vietnam War vet? All of the marketing seems to lean that way, but Sylvester Stallone is hedging his bet a bit by saying that if Last Blood does well and there's interest there, John Rambo might cut short his last ride.

Reviews were abysmal and the box office was middling at best, but in today's world, it's hard to discount a tried and true action franchise such as Rambo. Of course, if he does come back, please, please, please give him a hero's sendoff complete with a 21-gun salute. It's time to retire this character and I can't think of a better way to end the story than by John Rambo finally giving up his life for the country that he so desperately loves.

Rambo: Last Blood is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD.