Rambo: Last Blood (***1/2) In pain ’til I die

Rambo: Last Blood – 2019

Director Adrian Grunberg
Screenplay Matthew Cirulnick, Sylvester Stallone
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim, Joaquín Cosío, Oscar Jaenada

If Sylvester Stallone were to look back on his career, my guess is he’d trade the money he made with everything he wrote from Staying Alive through Rocky V just for a chance to rewrite them with the skill and heart that he employed outside of this era. Unfortunately for him, two of his most profitable Rambo Films were made during this time. I have seen parts of both of them, but I never could get through either. John Rambo is a brutal man, but he is not nearly the mindless machine he is made to appear in those films. In his battle with Schwarzenegger to create action extravaganzas, he forgot his skill at creating identifiable characters.

Starting with Rocky Balboa, he remembered what it was to be human. Even when laying to waste a mass of Myanmar soldiers in Rambo, he added touches that made us feel the man behind the murderous mayhem.

The trend continues with Rambo: Last Blood. The story is as simple as revenge: his neice, Gabriela (Monreal) goes to Mexico in search of her father. She is kidnapped and used in the sex trade. Those who hold her don’t know who they’re messing with, but they find out.

John Rambo, leading a quiet life of a rancher with his old friend Maria (Barraza) tried to warn her granddaughter, in his simple, direct and fatalistic way. Gabriela is driven to her ruin, and his ruin after her.

The touches of humanity sprinkled throughout Last Blood might be hard to detect, but they are there. No one can find the empathetic core of a brute like Stallone can. When discussing the fate of those lost to this sex trade with an investigative reporter named Carmen (Vega), Rambo says that all he can think about is the pain his Gabriela must be going through. He’d just been beaten and savaged nearly to death. His only thoughts are for the symbol of innocence and beauty he’s come to love in the “world of death” from which he’d attempted to spare her.

This is would seem a throwaway line of dialogue, only you can tell that Rambo actually feels this. It’s a rare combination of actor and screenwriter that makes Stallone a powerful presence in a genre that rarely gives a second thought to characters who are fridged for purposes of plot.

The last act is a visceral rush. We know what he’s going to do. He’s done it 4 times already, but the thought that goes into the evisceration of the bad guys goes beyond revenge and it’s incredible to experience. Stallone is beyond making his character have cheeky one liners. He is a death trap welcoming all comers. He is vengeance, unhinged and forever unsatisfied.

The satisfaction is for us, the viewer. We get to live our worst thoughts of revenge through the brutality of a man who does all of the heavy lifting while our dreams become his reality.

There is much talk about this having political overtones. The film has none of this, unless you bring that crap with you. There are many people living in cities who would just as soon everyone be disarmed. This movie is not for those people. This movie is for everyone whose lives are filled with loss, either self-inflicted or imposed upon them.

Sylvester Stallone understands the concept of little victories as well as anyone since Tom Laughlin brought Billy Jack into town the first time to fight for everyone who wouldn’t. Unironically, it was hippies he was protecting then. Flowers in the gun barrel didn’t work as well as kicking ass back then, either.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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