Rated R for Rambo level violence. Growing up in the '80s, the Rambo films were like our Saw. We describe them for how brutal they can be. When a new Rambo movie comes out, you expect massive gore on a level that would go toe-to-toe with the goriest horror movies. There's also sex trafficing and some problematic characterizations of the Mexican people. It feels like a movie that probably should grow a little bit, so keep that in mind. R.
DIRECTOR: Adrian Grunberg
I wish I could get excited to write about a movie where a white guy takes a bunch of weapons against a group of Latinos, but it seems like poor timing. Admittedly, while I was watching the movie, I also thought, "Is there a good time to be excited about this?" Probably not. I don't think that Sylvester Stallone is outright politically a bad guy, but I do think that John Rambo went from being fairly progressive to being a little bit more uncomfortable than I'm willing to enjoy.
Before I go on a diatribe, I do want to say that the movie kind of sucks to begin with. It's a bummer because the last Rambo movie was actually a good dismount for the character. We're getting these movies very much like Logan. We want to have an epilogue for our character that shows that the character still has power in a swan song. I actually really like that story. We've grown with this character and we want to have one last brawl when the character isn't in his prime. But the last Rambo film did that. We got Old Man Rambo in the last movie. He got that moment to show that he still has it. Also, it didn't hurt that in the previous movie, Rambo was living abroad. I'll go into that later. But a second epilogue, especially when it isn't as good as the previous one, really weakens the franchise as a whole.
This definitely feels like it is pretty off brand for Rambo. I'm not a Rambo purist. I've seen each movie once. I shotgunned the first four in a weekend and then never returned. I have strong opinions that probably water down pretty quick. But Last Blood feels like a random adventure for John Rambo that is given a bit more weight because the movie tells us that it has weight. One of my least favorite James Bond movies is Licence to Kill, which is actually the next Bond movie in the lineup. (Look forward to that!) Licence to Kill and Rambo: Last Blood have a lot in common. Rambo is distantly removed from the grand stories of the previous movies. (It's fair that it's actually called Last Blood because First Blood oddly enough has really small stakes.) While I applaud going smaller with a story for Rambo's last outing. it also is a puzzle piece that really doesn't feel like the rest of the story. I'm walking around in circles to say that the movie isn't really very good. It's a movie that foreshadows exactly how it is going to play out by showing tunnels that are silly and a lot of torture porn that leads to a big conclusion. It's pretty lazy in everything it does, including fridging the female lead of the film. Okay, the movie is begging me to talk about the lazy politics of Rambo: Last Blood. It's a big reason about why it sucks.
This is a movie about fridging. I probably have mentioned it in another thing I've written, but let me explain fridging a character. In the first character arc for Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern comic, Kyle had a pretty amazing girlfriend. Kyle didn't want to be the Green Lantern when the ring was offered to him. But his girlfriend is murdered and stuffed in a fridge. Basically, the only good that the female character is good for is dying, and thus motivating the male hero to embrace his destiny. That's Rambo: Last Blood. Yeah, the "rescue the princess" trope is a bit of a problem too, but I'll take that any day over the fridging trope. Let's use Rambo: Last Blood as it was intended, as the final swan song for John Rambo. You have this female character that, since the last move, has lived with John and has learned to take care of herself. Why have her being horribly raped, mutilated, and then killed? What if she was Rambo's spiritual successor? Rambo's aging out of his character. Imagine if Carmen makes the mistake to look for her father and the sex traffickers get the drop on her. So far, so good. (I can't believe I just wrote that, but give me a moment of context.) Now, in the course of the film, Carmen wakes up, realizes her situation, and starts dropping some John Rambo / Kevin McCallister style death traps allowing her to escape. So it becomes a race to get Carmen. Carmen can hold her own, but John Rambo acts as the cavalry? He has to go to Mexico (why not America?) and catch up with Carmen, who is not-quite-Robin-but-future-Batman-in-training. It becomes a race across country lines and the two have to fight off these bad guys. HOW MUCH BETTER IS THAT MOVIE? You can still use your silly tunnels. Have them make it back and have the final standoff there. That works. But this movie is just ick all around.
It's not like the Rambo movies are great pieces of art. But First Blood had something to say. Heck, I kind of want to write about First Blood juxtaposed to the talks about police brutality right now. That movie seems like it is a call to arms (pun not intended) to change society. This movie is just kind of gross. I'm not denying that the Mexican sex trafficking industry doesn't exist. It totally does. But it feels like the movie is so afraid of actually criticizing anything...American? Why can't Rambo go against good old fashioned racists? Instead, the movie plays up a pretty xenophobic concept. The movie gets that Mexico-sepia shading that every movie since Traffic has gotten. Mexico comes this place of "otherness". One of the things that was bugging me that I've kind of let go of was the idea that there are no Mexican heroes in this story. That's not true, in retrospect. We have a reporter and a doctor who are fighting the good fight. But their defined by their complete impotence to do anything about the situation. These two characters are fighting the good fight. They have been in the trenches for a long time. In comes John Rambo and just rips everyone apart. (Okay, first he gets wrecked and then rips everyone apart.) John Rambo is not a man of nuance, nor should he be. But the actual resistance looks adorable compared to John Rambo.
This all kind of now falls on me. I've been really burned out and hollowed out by gun violence. It means that a lot of action movies don't do the same things for me anymore. I don't know why I give some movies a pass. But Rambo films absolutely glorify gun violence. The lone man with a gun mythos is really put on a pedestal in these films. It's the reason that I don't really like The Punisher anymore. But because this movie makes a really bad conclusion to a long running franchise, one that already had a perfectly good ending, coupled with the very uncomfortable politics running throughout the film, I get why everyone kind of panned it. I wanted to be the voice of dissent on this one. I wanted to be the guy who liked Rambo: Last Blood. But I don't even have content to talk about. The movie is terribly lopsided. Rambo does absolutely dumb things throughout until the end. It's short and it treats its female lead horribly. What is there really to like in this movie? It seems like a big step backward not only for the franchise, but for filmmaking in general. The best thing it probably has for it is that it panders to an audience that gets excited for gross things.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.