Rambo: Last Blood (2019) Review
SHALLOW, GORY, AND UNSATISFYING
In the action genre, the character of John Rambo (as well as the Rambo movie franchise) has been immortalized as a staple fixture for badassery macho bravado. Deriving from the 1972 novel titled First Blood (by author David Morell), the Rambo series follows the life of John Rambo, a US Army veteran played by actor Sylvester Stallone, who is traumatized by his experience in the Vietnam War, and uses his deadly prowess skills he gained there to fight corrupt police offices, enemy troops, and drug cartels. Collectively, the Rambo franchise has had long run, with the first film (i.e. First Blood) being released in 1982 and the fourth installment (i.e. Rambo) being released in 2008, with Stallone still eager and willing to be attached to the project in playing the lead character role. The franchise has faced some mixed reviews, but still manages to be a popular within action genre; becoming a cult classic to some and making Stallone iconic in the role. Now, eleven years since the release of 2008’s Rambo, Lionsgate (as well as Millennium Media) and director Adrian Grunberg present the final entry in the long-running Rambo series with the movie Rambo: Last Blood. Does this latest close out the famed action franchise or does it conclude on sour and unsatisfying way?
Returning to the rural area of Arizona to reunite with his estranged father, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now in charge of the property after his dad’s death, remaining close to housekeeper Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) and becoming a surrogate father / guardian to her now 18 year old granddaughter, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who’s about to head to college. Still haunted by his past traumas, Rambo self-medicates with pills to even himself out, trying to remain in a healthy state of mind by a productive member on the farm. However, when he shoots down Gabrielle’s request to visit her absentee biological father in Mexico, the college bound teen defies her guardian’s wishes and heads south of the border to confront her past, only to be sold out by her once best friend, who offers her up to a sex trafficking ring un by cartel monsters, Hugo Martinez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and his brother, Victor (Oscar Jaenada). Learning of the kidnapping, Rambo heads down to Mexico to rescue Gabrielle, only to encounter the full force of Martinez brothers, which triggers something within the battle-weary warrior.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like the character of Rocky, Stallone’s character of John Rambo has definitely been one of those iconic movie characters that has become a pop-culture sensation. I mean…. when I think of Sylvester Stallone, I always think of Balboa or Rambo. While I personally like the Rocky franchise more, the Rambo movies are definitely a product of their time, with the first three films being released back in the 80s and bringing a lot of the 80s action violence and nuances to the proceedings. It works and has proven to be popular franchise. I did see those movies, but I never had the chance to see 2008’s Rambo. However, I did read the synopsis of the feature, so I know the story. In the end, Rambo franchise is a good mindless action flick that deserves its place in cinematic history.
This brings me back to talking about Rambo: Last Blood. As I mentioned, I was super big on the Rambo franchise, but when I heard the announcement for the film, my interest was somewhat piqued. This was mostly due to the fact that Stallone was going to be starring in the lead role (as he should be) and I curious to see how he handled the role, especially since the time gap between this movie and previous Rambo film. The film’s marketing campaign also highlighted that the feature would be a hard R-rating for violence (something akin to the franchise), which drew hype to the movie’s release as well as mine. Of course, I wasn’t expecting something completely profound (creatively speaking), but still to be entertained and amused by the presentation. So, I decided to check out the film to see if I was or not. Was I? Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t. Despite hard action R-rating and Stallone setting back into the role, Rambo: Last Blood is a shallow attempt excessive violence and thinly-sketched narration that doesn’t prove to go anywhere; bringing almost nothing new to the table. Even if you’re a Rambo franchise, Last Blood will still disappoint you.
Rambo: Last Blood is directed by Adrian Grunberg, whose previous directorial works include several projects as a second unit director (i.e. Apocalypto, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and Man of Fire) as well as feature director for Get the Gringo. Thus, Grunberg makes Last Blood is sophomore motion picture to direct and is probably ambitious of the two film projects. For sure, Grunberg knows of what to give fans of the Rambo series, staging plenty of R-rated violence in Last Blood and credits the movie with a sort of reminiscent feel to 2017’s Logan (i.e. a seasoned and weary warrior that must make his last stand in one final mission). It’s a proven story arc that works and definitely frames the feature in that context. Additionally, the movie does take spiritual cues from the Taken films, with the character of Rambo being a one-man wrecking crew as he takes down bad guys (in some brutal fashion I might add) to find Gabrielle. Also, Grunberg makes Last Blood move incredible fast, which both a curse and a blessing, but I’ll mention more below.
Presentation-wise, Last Blood gets the job done and presents a slick movie’s background world. Of course, what’s presented isn’t exactly the best (in terms of cinematic world), so I don’t expect the feature to be nominated for any upcoming awards or anything like that. That being said, the feature’s setting and background aesthetics is actually probably better than the movie’s narrative itself. Thus, all the normal categories of production, set decorations, and cinematography are all on par with what the industry standards for an action revenge endeavor. Not fantastic, but neither disappointing…. just something in-between. However, I do mention that the intricate tunnel system that John built underneath his father’s house was pretty cool and the staging of all the various traps was neat. As a side-note, the film’s score, which was composed by Brian Tyler, does deliver some great music composition to the feature; creating a few standout pieces that feel somber yet heroic (befitting the character of Rambo).
Unfortunately, Last Blood doesn’t really get off the ground and, more or less, clunky makes his way to the finish line of its franchise. How so? Well, for starters, the movie is incredibly derivate and thin….to say the least. The film’s script, which was penned by Stallone as well as Dan Gordon and Matthew Cirulnick, is woefully undeveloped and assembles a shell of narrative plot for the film to run its course. As I said above, I wasn’t expecting something groundbreaking or original when approaching a film like Rambo, but what’s presented is barely anything and has presented in a better light in other similar projects. What’s even more apparent is that the movie is incredibly rushed. Clocking in at around 89 minutes long (i.e. one hour and twenty-nine minutes), Last Blood is undeniably short and, while it does movie at a brisk pace, feels like huge chunks of the narrative are missing. Certain scenes and character moments are absent, which makes the film’s viewing experience a bit perplexing and feels like something is missing in the feature. Additionally, the movie’s script is quite wooden, with plenty of dialogue moments that are quite dull…even for an action movie. The film’s script is probably to blame, but also in Grunberg’s execution of the feature and how he manages to shape the film. There’s a sort of wonkiness to it all that doesn’t work, which will probably leave many viewers unsatisfied in this film. There’s not enough substance to it all. To be quite honest, the film’s viewing (as an entertainment piece) is hard to justify and creates a rather bland feature that’s quite predictable (looking beyond one or two moments) and formulaic; offering little to none creativity to both the Rambo franchise and the action genre.
Also, the movie also has a bad taste in projecting Mexicans, with a certain xenophobia feeling throughout. Of course, the depiction of Latin American drug cartels has always been a setup for action features, but there could’ve been an opportunity showcase certain aspects of this, including the Mexican drug cartel violence, human sex trafficking, or even the U.S. / Mexico border security control. Unfortunately, neither Grunberg nor the movie’s script examines those particular areas fully and merely just utilizes them as “window dressing” for the feature’s thinly-sketched plot.
As a side-note, the original story for Last Blood was suppose to be more soulful and meaningful (something akin to 2017’s Logan), which really could’ve been interesting to present for the character of John Rambo to go out in the same way as the famed X-Men fan-favorite superhero character.
Then, of course, there is the movie’s violence, which can be a “double edge” sword when executing in films like this. It can be down in such a way that works in a theatrical action movie, so long as the other aspects / nuances (cinematography, narrative story, character moments, etc.) are also fleshed as a sort of balancing act. However, that’s not the case in Last Blood. Sure, there’s plenty of violence frivolities that are usually accustomed to revenge like movie narratives (i.e. Taken, Man on Fire, and John Wick), but Last Blood goes way over the top in depictions of violence….to the point where it becomes unnecessarily excessive. Of course, there is some type of twisted pleasure to seeing some of Martinez brother’s drug cartel goons and bad guys getting their “just desserts”, especially since what the movie shows them doing, but it becomes just way too much. Naturally, there’s a lot of “shocking” moments that will sure make any viewer squirm and wince, but Grunberg’s repetitive nature of using this tactic wears thin and almost becomes cartoon-ish. I mean…horror movies have less gory violence than Last Blood, but at least in horror movies it feels more natural. The usage of it in this particular movie feels more superfluous…. a sort of R-rating violence for the sake being R-rated violence, with justification for it.
The cast in the movie is relatively small (choosing to focus on a small ensemble than a sprawling cast), but, despite the talents selected, Last Blood never really gives many of them any chance to shine in the feature. Of course, leading the charge of the film is actor Sylvester Stallone; headlining the feature as the franchise chief main protagonist character of John Rambo. Known for his roles in Rocky movies as well as Cliffhanger and Judge Dredd, Stallone has surely made his own; living up to be quite the iconic action hero among the greats of the cinematic action genre. Thus, much like what he did with his character of Rocky Balboa in 2015’s Creed, Stallone easily slides back into the role of John Rambo in a more seasoned and weary iteration of the character who is haunted by his past and much sums the strength for one final bout with bad guys. The story arc for John isn’t really the sharpness or best, but Stallone’s presence in every scene works and is probably the best positive attribute that Last Blood has to offer.
Behind Stallone, actress Yvette Monreal, known for her roles in The Fosters, Matador, and Lowriders, plays the character of Gabrielle (the somewhat main catalyst for feature). The character isn’t exactly the most well-rounded or original, but the movie does take the time (in the beginning of Last Blood) to develop the relationship between her and Stallone’s John Rambo as a sort of surrogate father / daughter pairing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to the character beyond that initially setup and is hampered by very wooden dialogue throughout. Monreal is okay in the role, but never truly fines her memorable footing in the character.
The same goes for the feature’s main two villains (Hugo and Victor Martinez), who are played by actors Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Life Itself and Snowfall) and Oscar Jaenada (The Shallows and The Losers). To their credit, their acting talents are not terrible, but Last Blood never affords either Peris-Mencheta or Jaenada shine beyond their caricature baddie personas. Thus, their actual screen presence just rings shallow and makes for less interesting characters, despite doing terrible things, which (again) lessens the impact of it all. Additionally, the character of Carmen Delgado, who is played by actress Paz Vega (Sex and Lucia and Spanglish) feels quite inadequate to the movie’s story. She lends a hand in Rambo’s journey, but it’s quite small and she’s immediately forgotten right after it. Again, it’s also as if the movie’s original story had bigger plans for her character than what was presented in the final edit.
Rounding out the rest of support cast are actress Fenessa Pineda (The Fosters and Mosquita y Mari) as Gabrielle’s friend Gizelle, actress Adriana Barraza (Cake and Babel) as Gabrielle’s grandmother Maria Beltran, and actor Marco de la O (El Chapo and Tanto Amor) as Gabrielle’s biological father Miguel. As you can tell, these minor characters serve as the bases for several components of the movie’s narrative moments (those revolving around Gabrielle’s story), but all of them could’ve been easily expanded upon for a more wholesome side characters in the film.
Stallone’s John Rambo is back on the silver screen (older and deadlier than before) in the movie Rambo: Last Blood. Director Adrian Grunberg’s latest film takes the infamous action hero of Rambo for a new installment; confronting his past and unearthing his ruthless combat skills in those who stand in his way. While Stallone is still incredibly solid in the role and some of the theatrical presentation nuances work, majority of the film just squanders that opportunity that was potential given for the character’s final stand, including a shallow story, weak characterization, a rushed narrative, unnecessarily excessive gore / violence, and just a simple hollow shell of a movie. Personally, I was disappointed with the movie. There were a few parts that I liked, but I really didn’t care for the movie as it was way too violent (and not in the cinematic / stylish way) and just downright haphazard within its paper-thin story. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a definite “skip it” as even fans of Rambo franchise will be disappointed with it. Heck, even Rambo creator David Morell dislikes this movie and saying “The film is a mess. Embarrassed to have my name associated with it.” Now that’s same something. In the end, after starting a popular franchise (worthy of the action genre), Rambo: Last Blood fizzles out the greatness of the character; ending on such a sour and unsatisfying note. What could’ve been an R-rated yet soulful farewell to John Rambo ends with an uninspiring and incredibly bland feature…and that’s the really disappointment.
1.7 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: September 20th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 29th, 2019
Rambo: Last Blood is 89 minutes long and is rated R for strong graphic violence, grisly images, drug use, and language