“Rambo: Last Blood” Movie Review


      In 2008’s “Taken”, Liam Neeson uttered the famous line “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career” to a nefarious group of kidnappers holding his daughter for ransom.  Of course, these were exactly the kind of skills needed to ensure these criminals would regret they took his daughter in the first place.  Who knew John Rambo would one day get to utilize his considerable skills in what is basically the same scenario?  The fearless Vietnam Vet we came to know in 1982’s “First Blood” is back for a fifth time around in a film that feels unnecessary to the same extent 2013’s “A Good Day to Die Hard” was.  At some point, can’t we let our 80s heroes live a quiet life devoid of them yet again finding themselves in the middle of a violent and unavoidable conflict?  Director Adrian Grunberg’s “Rambo: Last Blood” certainly attempts to make an argument to the contrary.

     Rambo, played again by a game Sylvester Stallone, lives on a  remote ranch in southern Arizona with an adopted family made up of his niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) and her grandmother, Maria (Adriana Barraza).  By day, he trains horses ( a trade he undoubtedly acquired after his memorable run with the Taliban in “Rambo 3”), at night he moves about a maze of tunnels he has apparently dug beneath the property.  Given an early statement to his niece reference the need to “keep a lid on” his ongoing battle with the violent memories of his past, you get the idea much of what he has constructed is symbolic of his time hunting the enemy in tunnels much like these overseas.  Perhaps it’s his way to stay sharp, but grounded at the same time.  We all like familiarity after all, plus the setting works out really well for him later in the film!

     Gabrielle was abandoned by her father years before and has been on a quest to find him ever since.  When a friend contacts her with information on his location in Mexico, she asks her adopted Uncle (Rambo) for advice as to how to proceed.  Given his righteous belief that there a men out there who have a black heart and are only capable of evildoing, he tells Gabrielle to avoid crossing the border to look for him.  But, of course, she does it anyway, as so many younger people do in stories like this.  Screenwriters, with Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick being no exception here, love to drive the plot of action films with teenage stupidity so the grizzled war veteran can step in and save the day.  And that’s exactly how this one goes down.

     After a failed meeting with her father, Gabrielle is subsequently drugged and kidnapped by a human trafficking enterprise run by two brothers, Victor (Oscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) Martinez.  Upon hearing the news, Rambo wastes no time in initiating his own solo rescue effort, which is ultimately derailed when he is outnumbered by a group of thugs and beaten within an inch of his life.  All of this leads to your standard revenge plot where the inevitable showdown with the Martinez brothers is bound to play out.  The funny thing is, the bad guys in this film are easily the weakest in terms of skill and training that Rambo has faced in his illustrious career as a soldier.  Some may point to the Cops in the first film, but these Cartel guys are clearly no match for what Rambo brings to the table, particularly when the action shifts to his own turf.

     Compacted into a brisk and uncomplicated 89 minutes, “Rambo: Last Blood”, perhaps because of the title, seems to bill this installment as the final story in the character’s brutally violent history.  And that’s where the disappointment mainly lies.  You could easily reorder the films from two through five and it wouldn’t make any difference.  There is no indication of slowing down or finally putting his past behind him in an effort to live some semblance of a normal life.  He’s set off in the blink of an eye and simply goes to work doing what we all know he does best.  What we were hoping for was maybe something along the lines of what Stallone did with his famed “Rocky’ character by inserting him into a supporting role with the opportunity to mentor someone from the next generation.  Perhaps Rambo could be the voice of reason for a soldier returning from the Middle East, utilizing his experience and knowledge to help calm the fire that resides inside anyone who has operated within the theater of war.

     Instead, Grunberg simply runs Rambo through a series of set pieces that we have seen so many other times, both in the previous installments as well as virtually any action movie in the past forty years.  Rambo kills a lot of people, rather easily in fact, and then the movie ends.  There’s no effort to make the Martinez brothers anything more than caricatures of the standard stereotype for a Mexican Cartel boss whose function here is to commit some really heinous act in order to get the audience behind what Rambo is about to do to them.  All of this is done quite effectively, and the final sequence brings the film a undeniable level of originality and excitement given the set up and the location it takes place.  But after getting to see Rambo pull someone’s beating heart out of their chest, showing it to him before he dies, you immediately ask yourself is this the best they could do?  But then again, we ask that question about the treatment of our Veterans everyday.  GRADE: C