Rambo: Last Blood (aka Rambo V / Rambo 5) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Sylvester Stallone brought his character of Rocky to an enduring end with 2006’s Rocky Balboa, later passing the torch in Creed. Now he does the same for John Rambo, the tragic soldier who returned home to a war he didn’t want. Well, at least that was what First Blood implied. After that, Rambo basically became a joke of the tough action hero. But perhaps in Last Blood, we can find something more for a character who finally came home and tries to adjust. It is for this reason why this supposed last outing of Rambo is a let down of an action character spiraling further from what he once was and represented.
Stallone reprises Rambo after over a decade as less a hermit and more of a relaxing older guy residing on a ranch near the Mexican border. He still has flashes of his Vietnam days and his hobby of digging underground tunnels for blacksmithing doesn’t exactly make for the best of therapy. He befriends a Mexican family and seems to make warm connections well. The aged mother is a bit of shrew but he seems to connect well enough as one aged soul to another. The woman’s teenage daughter also takes a liking to him and he slowly learns to let her into more of his life. It’s when the teenager ventures into Mexico to find her father that she finds herself drawn into a darker world of crime. Thus, Rambo resumes his violence for justice.
The return of Rambo feels perhaps the most distant of previous iterations of the characters, having fully contorted him into not merely a rough-and-tumble, bruised-arm brother in arms but a sadistic killing machine switching gears into Taken mode. There’s certainly a more personal edge the way Rambo has taken the war home with him, fighting more against a crime syndicate than a terrorist group, but what more does the character have to add to his bloodthirsty nature. When questioned by his Mexican family at one point about people being able to change, Rambo insists he has not changed his ways and is merely trying to keep a lid on his vicious nature.
That may make the character sound like a more tragic figure, but here’s the problem with that. Rambo’s actions of giving in to his violent and vigilant mode is rationalized as being just what the doctor ordered when it comes to dispatching a cartel. He lures the gang to his tunnels for an exercise in brutality; shooting them in the face, slicing off limbs, setting them on fire, firing arrows, and, as a crescendo, removes the heart of his enemy, watching them slowly die as though he were in Mortal Kombat. I’d rumors a decade ago that one idea in consideration was pitting Rambo against The Predator. I can’t help but feel it would go down in a similar manner.
Last Blood offers no last thoughts on the character of John Rambo, merely showcasing how his strong and violent side can be inserted into any action formula, as seen here in a Taken-style scenario of a kidnapped girl and a retired killer killing once more. Though the action is supremely gory in a manner most fitting of a figure from the 1980s, so much is lost as the film meanders towards the characters end, blurring our vision as the blood sloshes on-screen and wipes away any concerns for the character’s mentality. Nevermind about how stressed Rambo feels about living in a much different society that he feels has betrayed him. All he needs is a little pathos and some evil gangsters to chop up and he’s apparently content enough to either fade away or lie dormant for another picture. Perhaps the Last Blood title can keep a lid on it this time.