And so we have, putatively, come to the end of the John Rambo saga. What began as a popcorn flick with a few hard-edged lobs at the price of war on the psyche has, over the years, devolved into an ego massage for its standard-bearer, Sylvester Stallone.
He returns as a greyer, more wizened Vietnam vet with pronounced PTSD who has found a kind of peace on the
family ranch in Arizona with an adopted family. He has also found a new vendetta. Not one of his troubled fever dreams or flashbacks, no this time it’s personal, as in those dastardly human traffickers messing with Rambo’s adopted 17-year-old niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal).
Naturally, she is bright, beautiful, and on the cusp of a life of great joy and promise. Further naturally in films like these, all that will grind to a screeching halt in the first 15 minutes or so. And so it does as Gabrielle announces to Uncle John and her grandmother that she has found her long-lost father, the one who abandoned her, and will be crossing the border into Mexico in order to reconnect with him. Or at least get an answer about why he left. Starry-eyed innocent that she is (an important trope in films like these), she is sure that people can change. That he has not tried to contact her in 10 years, well, there must be a good reason for that.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters that Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), Gabrielle’s old school friend currently living in red-walled squalor in Mexico. We know she’s a bad girl because Gabrielle’s grandmother has told us that during one of the film’s many expositional interludes, and because Jezel wears elaborate eye-shadow and very high hair. When the two decide to go dancing to take their minds off their troubles, only a viewer as starry-eyed in his or her innocence as Gabrielle herself would not know what comes next.
Once Gabrielle has been drugged and kidnapped by the human traffickers, the flick’s clunky prelude concludes, and RAMBO: LAST BLOOD can proceed with what it’s there for: a non-stop cavalcade of corpses rendered lifeless in all sorts of stomach-churning ways. Will the thug that Uncle John debones stay conscious long enough for the latter to lead the former to Gabrielle? Will Uncle John get there before Gabrielle suffers a fate worse than death? And what to make of a story in which all the male protagonists threaten death as the first best alternative when negotiating? Just kidding about that last question. We know exactly what to make of that.
This is about the human body being spiked, slashed, pummeled, dismembered, decapitated, pinioned by a crossbow, fried to a blackened crispiness by fiery conflagrations, and, in a tribute to the Aztecs and/or Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO, have a beating heart removed from the owner’s thorax and held up to his eyes while it’s still beating. All accompanied by effusive sprays of blood with suitably glurpy and/or crackly sound effects as the camera observes it all with a peculiar entropy unrelieved by the artistic visuals of, say, a Peckinpah, or the wit of a Tarantino. No, the most deadly element at work is how very seriously this film takes itself.
Stallone, when not attempting to scale rarified thespian heights with neither metaphorical crampons nor oxygen tank to assist in the ascent, maintains his lopsided grimace and trademark grunt as he stalks along with cold dead eyes and a generally distracted air. That last makes a modicum of sense only when he wakes after a four-day coma. Then again, he wakes from that coma, contused, lacerated, and concussed, none of which affects his ability to deck a burly thug with one well-aimed blow. Three actually, not that it matters.
The result is that RAMBO: LAST BLOOD is little more than a soft-core snuff film in which Uncle John’s speech about revenge takes the place of romantic sparks with the Mexican journalist (Paz Vega), who is also on the trail of the traffickers. The worst part is that as the honey-colored sunset spills over the bucolic Arizona landscape as the credits roll, there is the creeping fear that there might just be a loophole somewhere that will bring us RAMBO: LAST BLOOD, PART 2. There is a precedent.