Review: Rambo: Last Blood goes out with a whimper

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RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (Adrian Grunberg). 89 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (September 20). See listing. Rating: N


Rambo: Last Blood opens with a genuine surprise: the sight of John Rambo wearing people clothes and speaking in complete sentences.

Given that so much of 2008’s Rambo was dedicated to Sylvester Stallone’s character accepting his bestial, brutal nature – completing his journey over four feature films from the PTSD-driven hunter-killer of First Blood into a living weapon of war – it’s shocking to see him at peace, having spent the subsequent decade living a well-adjusted life on a ranch in Arizona, training horses and helping raise teenage Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal).

The horrors Rambo endured have been washed away, his murderous nature neutered with good old American meds. But of course it cannot last: Gabrielle goes down to Mexico and doesn’t come back, so it’s time for Rambo to unleash that killer instinct.

Last Blood sets itself up as an old-man action movie à la Taken, but it’s clear that Stallone (who co-wrote the script with Matthew Cirulnick) has his eye on Unforgiven, that sombre meditation on the futility of revenge which also deconstructed an iconic screen hero. But he lacks Clint Eastwood’s insight – and more importantly his patience, rushing through the beats of the plot so he can get to killing goons as soon as possible.

So really, the first hour of Last Blood is a wheezy old thriller about an old guy punching his way into and out of trouble; it’s less 90s Eastwood than 90s Bronson, which is a far cheesier variation on the theme. Stallone and Cirulnick also borrow Bronson’s fondness for ethnic stereotypes; other than a sympathetic journalist played by Paz Vega, every single person in Mexico is either a thug to be brutalized, a collaborator to be shamed or a victim to be saved. (Right-wing audiences might struggle to frame Rambo as a MAGA hero – the character is resolutely apolitical, acting entirely out of self-interest – but the movie validates every one of their prejudices.)

Still, no one comes to these movies for the politics: they come for the spike traps and the marksmanship and the wholesale pulping of villains. In the last 20 minutes of the film, director Adrian Grunberg delivers the full-on carnage the trailers promise, with all the crushed heads, pierced chests and macheted feet a B-movie budget can buy.

If that’s what you want, by all means enjoy it. Me, I just wanted it to end, once and for all.

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A life-long Torontonian, Norman became the senior film writer for NOW in early 2008. Previously he had reviewed films for Metro newspapers across Canada and covered every video format imaginable (yes, even Beta).

Read more by Norman Wilner

September 20, 2019

11:06 AM