Last Blood – Callum’s Take. Rambo has certainly had a very bumpy road throughout his long running series. His first outing, First Blood, is a film that I will always hold close to my heart. It’s one of the best action films of the 80’s, but is also quite provocative and very subversive – it’s also quaint compared to pretty much everything that came out after it. But it never stops being fun, despite its body-count being only one (even then it’s accidental). Maybe it’s because I was way too young when I first saw it (I snuck out of bed at the age of six and found it on the TV), but it has always stuck with me.
First Blood Part 2 and Rambo III, on the other hand, were the same film with a different paintjob. In both, Rambo finds himself in a delicate political situation and we spend more than half of the film focusing on said situation, with slow, slow speeches and dialogue, uninteresting characters and a now hollow shell of a main character. And in both we are treated to a finale of joyfully campy, over-the-top gratuitous violence and good old 80’s action shlock. I find it hard to recommend either, but both have their moments – Rambo III in particular has one of my favourite villain deaths of cinema (the exploding man in the cave scene). Rambo, the confusingly titled fourth film, does fall victim to the same tropes, but is a better executed film and lacks the camp of the others. When the action starts it’s jaw-droppingly shocking, in keeping with the film’s tone.
Now we find our fifth, and presumably final film of the series in Rambo: Last Blood. Sylvester Stallone returns as the titular character to dish out the vengeance he seeks on the bad-guys and anyone working beneath them. With Last Blood we do get what we come to expect from Rambo. Both in a good and bad way. Before I explain the plot, I feel that I need to get into the nitty-gritty first.
Like all the films after First Blood, the direction in Last Blood is pretty flat. In a way, it works to have something told to us so matter of fact. It knows why we are hear and is quick to get to it. With a runtime of just over 80 minutes, the film is a very nuts-and-bolts experience – a definite plus for me. As Crawl earlier this year proved, there is still a place for quick, mindless popcorn fun – incidentally, go watch Crawl when you can, of the two film’s here it is the stronger one. But flat direction also means that when nothing is going on, then truly nothing is going on! The same goes for the cast. Nobody is bad in this film – Stallone mumbles a lot and is at times harder to understand than the Spanish dialogue, but he does as well as he has done with the other films. But they are not engaging. When there is no action or promise of action, we feel nothing – save for one distressing moment in the middle.
When the action does happen, it is bloody. For someone like me, who loves the grindhouse feel of films like Bone Tomahawk and over-the-top bloody violence like in Dredd, this was glorious, a terrific bit of fun. But for many, the violence might be a step too far. Even I’ll admit, at times it was unnecessary. Bloody stab wounds and gun shots are expected, but we have organs and bones being ripped out of bodies here too. The gore reminded me of slasher films. It’s a taste issue as to whether you’ll take to the violence or not.
Now, here is my main issue. The story has Rambo attempting to save his niece from a Mexican cartel that has kidnapped her into sex-slavery. That’s it, that’s the story. Because of this story, and the way it’s filmed Last Blood feels like many things – overall, it’s like Taken, it’s also like Machete, Dragged Across Concrete, Old Boy at one point, before the films starts feeling like an adult-rated Home Alone film at the end. But what it never feels like is a Rambo film. Stallone could have been playing Bob Jones and the film wouldn’t have changed at all.
I would like to say that it at least kept me mildly entertained. But it didn’t! Now, it wasn’t boring. It still felt like a quick film. But I only enjoyed the action scenes, and the preparation for those scenes. The moments involving the sex-slavery were what undid that good will. Now, this is a touchy topic. It does happen in the world, as horrid as that is to admit. Something should be done to stop it. And bringing awareness to the issue and talking about it is the only way that can happen. That doesn’t mean we should enjoy it. So, despite the dumb fun set-up and pay off – much like in Rambo – Last Blood is a mostly unpleasant watch. It’s not exactly well-handled either, occasionally coming off as unintentionally xenophobic, which many people have picked up on.
It’s a tough one. It’s a decent bit of mindless, blood-soaked fun with a strong performance from Stallone and some decent moments of emotion, which is what you’d expect from Rambo. But it’s also misguided in its political messages, is out of touch with the time it is in and, when no action is present, it’s quite tedious – which, sadly, is also what we expect from Rambo too. If I had to compare it to the rest of the series, I guess it’s the worst one. It’s less a Rambo film and more a disposable action film. If that’s what you would want, then you’ll enjoy it fine. Other than that, you might as well skip it.
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