Buttered and Salty – ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Review

last blood, rambo, action, sylvester stallone, sequel, review, lionsgate

R, 1h 29min,  Action, Adventure, Thriller

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There’s a scene in “Rambo: The Last Blood” where Sylvester Stallone’s titular hero enters a human trafficking ring and quickly dismantles every bad guy in the building. He works quickly, effectively, and brutally to free the hostages that work there. He is surprised, just like the audience is, that none of the women take him up on his advice to get out of there as fast as they can. They are scared of the ramifications if they attempt to flee. It’s a quick moment, but fascinating for this type of movie. 

This is just one example of the modern day John Rambo. The character returned home to his family’s ranch in Arizona at the end of 2008’s “Rambo,” and it is here that we see him living the simple life of tending to the horses and living with a family that he has grown to love these last ten years, particularly teenager Garbielle, played by Yvette Monreal. Stallone’s Rambo says more words to this young lady in the first 30 minutes than he does in the majority of the other four films combined. He loves her like a daughter, which is something I never expected going into this film. It gives “Rambo: Last Blood” heart. It may be a “big, dumb action movie,” but Stallone has always had a gift of pulling empathy out of his audience for his brutish characters. Monreal and Stallone have an exceptional scene in the middle of the film that almost makes you forget the violence you just witnessed minutes before. When needed, the guy can really act. I’ve always said it. 

He’s also, in my humble opinion, the last of the strongarm 80’s action heroes that’s completely relevant on screen today. Schwarzenegger is still plugging away at “Terminator” movies (“Terminator: Dark Fate” opens November 1st), but his box office output has seen diminishing returns since leaving the Governorship. Bruce Willis, with the exception of the occasional bad “Die Hard” sequel, hasn’t had a good string of hits for about five years, and one has to wonder if “Under Siege” star Steven Seagal is missing. Sly Stallone, however, has continued to take advantage of his resurgence since bringing back Rocky in 2006’s excellent  “Rocky Balboa.” Since then he’s resurrected Rambo in 2008, created “The Expendables” series of action films, made a slew of television appearances, been nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” in the Rocky franchise off-shoot “Creed,” and even appeared in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” The man has been busy the last decade. Not bad for a 73 year old. 

What’s really impressive about the guy is that he’s 100% effective in his movies. He appears completely invested in these projects and cares about the quality, even going so far as to direct, produce or write (sometimes doing all three) several of these films. I couldn’t believe it when I heard a group of 20-somethings quoting Rocky’s “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward! ” speech from “Rocky Balboa” recently. The film is over a decade old and they all said the speech meant a lot to them, specifically the aspect of the father/son relationship that was at the heart of the scene between Rocky and his son, Robert. I can relate. 

Speaking of memorable characters and their effectiveness, John Rambo is flat out scary when the time comes to create mayhem in this movie, which is pretty much at the heart of a “Rambo” movie, no? 

And mayhem there is. A lot of it. I’ve seen a few negative reviews of this entry highlighting the violence, carnage and lack of political correctness in this film. Did these other critics ever watch a “Rambo” film? If you are going into a film ready to review one you should know what you’re heading into. “Rambo” isn’t exactly a romantic comedy. This movie is violent, maybe even more so than the others, perhaps because personalized violence in what is essentially a revenge film. Why would you be going to a Rambo film for any other reason though, right? These films have never gotten good reviews anyway. If you like “Rambo,” you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy about this film. If not, you won’t. I lean on the former. 

On a side note, the narrative that seems to be infecting critics in the United States is that “Rambo: Last Blood” is somehow either racist or “Trumpian,” which is flat out ridiculous. The claim is made by hyper-sensitive critics projecting their inner-politics onto an action film. Nothing to see here.

While I really enjoyed the film, it’s not perfect. It felt under-cooked and underdeveloped in certain areas. While I applaud the filmmakers for not over-stuffing the film and choosing to give it a shorter run time (it’s not even 90 minutes), it could have used the extra 20-30 minutes to fill in the story and characters. I’ve heard Stallone state that there was more material shot that focused on his characters PTSD as well as other aspects of the film he deemed “going too far.” I certainly hope he re-considers putting them back in for an extended cut on home video, because it was this type of material I felt the movie was lacking.  I also thought the ending of the film, while effective in what it was trying to say, misses a perfect opportunity for finality. Some may be happy with how it closes, though. 

At the end of the day, as the sun sets on both Stallone’s colorful career and that of the character of John Rambo, I find myself not caring which version of Schwarzenegger’s T-800 cyborg will be fighting for the future in the next “Terminator,” or if Willis’ John McClane beats the terrorists with one of his adult children sidekicks again in another ineffective and lazy “Die Hard,” but I care about John J. Rambo.

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