Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 19, 2019)
Back in 1988, Rambo III turned into a commercial disappointment. While it didn’t flop, it failed to capitalize on the high expectations that followed the enormous success of 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Because Rambo III didn’t turn into a real hit, that seemed like the end of the franchise, but Sylvester Stallone decided to revive his sullen Vietnam veteran role for 2008’s Rambo. That one did less than spectacular numbers as well, so it looked like the series really, truly came to a close.
Once again, Stallone chose otherwise, and that led to 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood. Still in search of a peaceful life, John Rambo (Stallone) now lives on a ranch in Arizona.
Rambo resides with longtime friend Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) and her teenage granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). Rambo develops a warm, fatherly bond with Gabrielle.
When Gabrielle heads to Mexico to meet her long-lost father, she ends up abducted by a cartel and sold into sexual slavery. Rambo heads across the border to rescue Gabrielle as well as punish her abductors.
Across the five Rambo movies to date, John himself remains the only constant. His former commander Colonel Trautman played a fairly substantial role in the first three, but Richard Crenna died before the 2008 film, so any potential continuation of that relationship went by the wayside.
Given the nature of the Rambo character, this makes sense. We see him as a conflicted loner, not someone with tight friend/family bonds, so the lack of continuity with others seems logical.
However, this also means that new roles feel like they come out of nowhere, and that really feels true for Last Blood. We find ourselves with a major character in Gabrielle but nothing to connect her to the prior four flicks.
Again, I can see how this reflects a potential reality, but in execution, the relationship feels trite and convenient. We don’t sense that Rambo’s sedate lifestyle with Gabrielle and Maria exists in an organic way.
Instead, the characters appear to exist solely to motivate action. We find ourselves with little reason to attach to Gabrielle beyond stock movie clichés, mainly because we realize she appears on screen for no reason other than to become Rambo’s Cause Du Jour.
Last Blood devotes a surprising amount of screen time to Gabrielle’s backstory, as about the first one-fourth of the movie follows her tale. This turns into enough cinematic real estate to bore the viewer but not enough to truly flesh out the role.
We get all of this for only one reason: to send Rambo on yet another violent quest for justice. I do appreciate the fact that all five Rambo flicks take place in different settings and don’t simple remake each other, but Last Blood doesn’t do much to capitalize on the character’s strengths.
Honestly, there’s not much to make this feel like a Rambo film beyond the usual graphic violence. The domesticated Rambo on display here doesn’t seem all that connected to the haunted loner of the past, and much of the plot comes across like a generic rehash of the Taken series.
For a movie with such a simple narrative – and a brief 89-minute running time - Last Blood really tends to plod. It takes surprisingly long to get where it needs to go in terms of development, and even when it finally reaches that destination, it feels limp.
Last Blood comes with some unnecessarily cruel story points, and it doesn’t deliver the goods when it reaches it climax. This occurs partly – or perhaps mainly – because the movie doesn’t invest enough into its villains.
Sure, we want to see the baddies punished, as the film makes them out to be thoroughly reprehensible. However, this desire doesn’t go beyond the generic, as we don’t attach enough visceral emotion to the antagonists to really root for their comeuppance.
Tack on a climax that clearly borrows from Home Alone and Last Blood sputters. If this becomes the final adventure of John Rambo, then the character goes out on a dull note.