Director - Adrian Grunberg
Cast - Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Joaquín Cosío
Released in the shadow of the Vietnam War, the first couple of films in the Rambo franchise found a famous fan in then president Ronald Reagan. I wouldn’t be surprised if in one of his morning tweets, the current POTUS Donald Trump were to declare Rambo: Last Blood the greatest movie ever made, because the fifth instalment in the journeyman action franchise is loud, full of hot air, but perversely watchable.
While Sylvester Stallone insists that he is politically agnostic, Rambo, the character — either by fluke or by design — has become a symbol for right-wing conservatism. He’s a proud nationalist who makes incursions into foreign lands, annihilates the natives, and in this film lures them into America, only to hunt them again, this time on home turf.
The PTSD-ridden veteran who in earlier films has taken on the Viet Cong and the Soviets, during the post 9/11 era embraced his country’s reacquired status as an aggressor. In Last Blood, he takes on Mexicans.
The ‘bad hombres’ make the mistake of kidnapping Rambo’s niece and selling her into sex slavery. Before they know it, Rambo is lurking around their seedy lair, demanding that they release her. For reasons that I’m still baffled by, the gangsters let him live, when killing him would’ve been the most logical (and not to mention easiest) thing to do. Angrier, bloodier, and now joined by a journalist of all people, Rambo launches another attempt to rescue his niece.
For starters, despite its frequent forays into objectively nutty territory — honestly, I don’t know which is weirder; that Rambo takes the help of a journalist, or that the journalist is played by Paz Vega — Last Blood is never dull. At around 90 minutes long, it is over well before its flaws are allowed to register. And when you actually begin to notice the gaps in logic, it knocks you silly with the most gratuitous blast of violence in recent memory.
It takes an hour for it to explode, but Last Blood ends with a 20 minute stretch of movie mayhem staged so energetically, that my screening started to resemble a Marvel premiere. The crowd was hooting and hollering, screaming at every severed head, cheering at every sliced limb, and nearly descending into total anarchy when Rambo went in for the kill. I was stunned that the CBFC, which has in the past prudishly frowned upon a kiss between two consenting adults, chose to let the final moments of Last Blood unfold as they were intended.
Certainly, none of the dozens of faceless villains in the movie could be so lucky. It is unfortunate that director Adrian Grunberg (once again after his debut, Get the Gringo) plays into the worst stereotypes about both Mexicans and Americans — the former are literally rapists, and Rambo a white saviour — but one doesn’t expect a film in this franchise to be culturally sensitive. And although many things about it may be misguided, it never feels malicious. Especially in the opening couple of acts, which are unexpectedly sombre.
Bearing in mind the restrictions that Last Blood is trapped within — it is, after all, a fifth instalment of a series that felt outdated a decade ago — Stallone does his best with what he’s working with. It has none of the character driven drama of the Creed movies, but at least Rambo, like Rocky, is showing his age. He is no longer the machine that he used to be. He is now a strategist.
Sure, there’s a scene in which a woman looks Rambo dead in the eyes and says, “You remind me of your father,” but you have to hand it to Stallone. Few would have the audacity to get a woman who is clearly 15 years younger than them say these words. It reminded me of the scene in The Mummy where Russell Crowe (then 52), called Tom Cruise (two years his senior), a ‘young man’.
There’s a deadness in Stallone’s weary eyes that does more heavy lifting than any actual dialogue that the actor delivers. And as inelegant as the filmmaking may be — the first act is so choppily edited, John Rambo himself might have taken a knife to it — Stallone shoulders the shortcomings.
Last Blood is a throwback to an era of action movies whose loop has closed twice over — first in the ‘80s and then again, when Liam Neeson’s Taken franchise took off. It is old-fashioned, unnecessary, and incredibly insensitive, but for its audience, it will be immensely satisfying.