I’m gonna hurt you real bad.– John Rambo
Ah, Johnny, Johnny Johnny… Still at it after thirty-eight years, going all Rocky Balboa on the Mexican cartel; with the war-torn ‘Nam still doing rounds in that head of yours.
Old school, heavy-duty, ultra-violent action. The action is so old school that the keen viewer can’t help but feel a billow of nostalgia surge through the body, as for the Rambo-fan, well, the name is enough, although a little disheartening to learn (by the title) that there will be no more Rambo films anymore, this part of the Eighties is also gone, like so much more.
We get to watch the previous films in sepia flashback, from the first time the camera closed in on the knife-sheath, where Rambo inserts The First Blood survival knife (designed by Arkansas knife smith Jimmy Lile), to a gear-up montage before taking on the mounted American police lancers led by a cruel sheriff, in the town of Hope, Washington, single-handedly, or that time, before going all guns blazing and determined against the politics of his own country and set in the context of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue; or before he arms himself to the teeth and joins hands and rocket launchers with the ‘mujahideen’ of Afghanistan (the times were different, and when I say the title takes a little more of the Eighties away from us, it can also be the relations between the two countries and the clandestine role of the Pakistani intelligence and how all of it has come back to haunt us) in their war against the Iron Curtain, or to lead a group of mercenaries into Burma (The Saffron Revolution of Myanmar), and then to reluctantly turn his boat back, to rescue Christian missionaries from the ruthless SPDC officer Major Pa Tee Tint (Maung Maung Khin) and his army of rebels (just like the Indian Nationalist, facist, junta army), in what I think, is the most ferocious and brutal and extreme film in the Rambo movie franchise.
The 2008 film is soaked in blood, it is earthy, hardened, battle-scarred, with Sylvester Stallone emptying rounds of ammunition into the rebels, firing away from atop a jeep, with a Browning M2 Aircraft . 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the rear of the vehicle, with limbs flying off and heads getting pulverized. He even looked rather tired and aging, and fuming and fierce in the fourth installment, with the signature snarling look and slurred speech, a result of an accident during his birth in 1946.
Director Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo, 2012) and Stallone (screenplay by) pay their homage to the franchise in full, before moving on to the matters at hand and a senior-citizen Rambo, just like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, 2008 and then The Mule, 2018.
Last Blood may come across as pretty tame and not as uncompromising in comparison to the last Rambo outings, but when the kills start, there’s loads of blood and severed body parts everywhere, and also a smile on the fanboy’s face.
The filmmakers here try and cram the film with ultra-violence and gore and with the knowledge of this being the last Rambo film, they try to wring the franchise of every last drop of blood. In doing so, Grunberg does manage to get some of the humanity of the original into this film, however not without inevitably falling into the revenge genre, which feels pedestrian at times, but not when a bunch of baddies beats up Stallone and he is shown lying on the ground, looking at them, taking mental notes, counting heads, measuring the foe and the way they fight, so he can go back to his ranch and get them all, hook bait and rigged grenade. Other than that and a couple of other sequences, the film seems to be devoid of any soul, it comes across as an eye for an entire head film, where once the action starts, it only ends when Rambo is finally out of ammo, and man, he has stocked up some huge cache of arsenal in all those years he was living on the ranch, something like the bunker from Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991.
I mean this is Rambo for fuck’s sake and if it (the film) is content with indulging in bloody violence at the expense of character building or some other screenplay sensitivity that may come across as harsh, it can do so, it has earned all the validation to do so. Nobody goes into a Rambo film, expecting to watch a poignant exchange of dialogues. No, they watch a Rambo film because the name has become synonymous with extreme violence and a battle-damaged psyche, and this one is heavy on the brooding examination of our lead, on a ranch, living in retirement.
Plus, this is the first Rambo film where I was worried that the Mexican Cartel thugs would actually harm him, when they all gang up and beat him to the concrete, only for him to catch a quick blurry sight of a number plate. The frail nature of the fifth installment is enough to upset the Rambo-fan for sure. There’s another thing, besides the fragility that goes against the recurrent narrative, the mythos of a Rambo film; First Blood, 1982 was a symbol for the damage that war can do to a soldier, and forty years later, the contradiction comes to bite the filmmakers in the ass, as they make Rambo an unkillable human machine gun. However, having said that, Stallone, yet again, puts in everything the Hollywood veteran can and ultimately gives a profound performance, not very far from the character of the Old Man Rambo.
The main problem or the point of disaccord and contention is also moot here, with the critics and fans complaining about the script and calling it “clunky” and “lazy” and “for a television series” rather than a proper send off to a franchise. Human morality and the way the film explores it, or doesn’t; is also something that did not go down very well with the reviewers, who insist that a trade-off has been made on charged territory than the gamut of emotions, especially the women who are forced into prostitution and kept dormant and languishing with the use of street drugs.
However, with all said and done, the film Taken, I mean Rambo: Last Blood establishes characters, without taking much time, before descending into full-blown Rambo Redemption Hell. They tried to keep it simple; family gets kidnapped, ‘good retired soldier/man” goes after the bad guys to avenge the bloodletting and all of it through an elusive gesture on Stallone’s face, and a revelation that the fifth film is a mercenary gesture (like how Rocky came full circle with Creed, 2015) and not necessary.
Rambo blows the cartel to hell in so many different violent ways, the variety and innovation of getting back is praiseworthy, and so is the homecoming performance of Stallone, whose retro-yield return to trap building form is as intact as it was in 1982. Calibrated to evoke a favorable response from Rambo fans (yours truly included), the film works very well as each kill is cheered on, no matter how the entire franchise has been subjugated to fulfill no other purpose, but to have the geronto-ultraviolence hallucination crank the dial on artistic aggression to eleven, without having to talk much or explain itself to the audience.
Witney Seibold of IGN notes: “[Sic] Rambo films have rarely been bastions of cultural togetherness, but in 2019, these broad stereotypes are offensive and dated and downright irresponsible“. That may very well be, and coupled with a ‘white’ savior to free the sex slaves and make them cross borders into the US could all very well be trite and misconstrued, however, I believe the dissection on this one is too deep and futile and the discovery disappointing as all gripes have been addressed in the past films and this one is only to give the franchise a bloody farewell, in Mexican spoken by Spanish actors.
Yes, the film is full of faults, but do we need to sit on those and let the last entry just fly-by. I don’t suppose so, and no matter how offensive or farcical the film may appear or come across to a certain group of movie critics, it doesn’t take away anything from the film, which delivers in any way it can, “Trumpian fantasies of Mexican rapists and hilariously insecure US border, and its crass enthusiasm for rape-revenge attacks” or not. In the end, the stereotypical villain and their reprehensibility are what makes the payback work, well, not as much as it did in the wounded, wounding, explosive, charged, and unforgiving part IV, but enough to let John Rambo drive his 1992 Ford F-150 truck into the sunset. The biggest problem with this film is that people keep coming up with complex well-structured statements to maim the film since it is taking a part of history away from them. Instead of crying and throwing a tantrum, the acute (upset) critic uses words like “soulless, “a mess“, “offensive“, with “grindhouse sensibilities“, where the imagery is similar to the methodology of the Viet Cong and their complicated tunnels, just that Rambo has managed to make that kind of (PTSD) tunnels under his sprawling ranch and uses it to full effect when the convoy of 2007 Chevrolet Suburbans are shown taking a right to the ranch and then boom, the truck leading the caravan blows up, and the guerilla war starts. This is all still very much Rambo, in its visuals and conviction, however, because of the quick exit strategy, it manages to make many people very upset.
As for this pilgrim, if I’d been five years younger, I would have liked this even more, but I guess I’ve become mellow and intolerant to the bloodletting, let alone bloodletting in a film titled Last Blood. It comes across as too violent for my middle-age sensibilities and now that I’m a father to a 13-year-old, I just can’t seem to take in the slice and dice and what have you. And then I go ahead and watch 3 from Hell, 2019.
Will I ever learn?
Critics be like:
This post has already been read 19 times!