It’s been well over a decade since Sylvester Stallone realised the value of being associated with a pair of monosyllabic action heroes. When he was trying to look smart on screen, audiences stayed away. But by embracing his basic action roots with The Expendables and returning to Rocky and Rambo, Stallone found his way back to commercial success and more than a bit of critical acclaim.
He’s been riding that wave ever since, producing as many action movies as his ageing body will allow, which leads us here – to this swansong for the character that defined 80s action.
Back in the US for the first time since Rambo II, John Rambo is eking out a life on his late father’s old ranch in Arizona, with his friend Maria and her teenage granddaughter, Gabriela.
Trouble kicks in when Gabriela defies the pair of seniors and heads to Mexico in search of her estranged father, desperate to find out why he abandoned his daughter ten years earlier.
Mistakes are made, Gabriela gets messed around, messed up and kidnapped – meaning a Mexican cartel is now in Rambo’s sights.
When the credits roll at the end of Last Blood, we are treated to flashes of Rambo memories. That time he took out the Russians with a bow an arrow, or his one man war in the forest of Washington. The times he was tortured. All that stuff.
The stuff that should have been perfect fuel for exploring an aged Rambo searching for peace.
But this is a Stallone script, and there’s only one motivation Stallone has ever really dealt with – grief. Whether it’s Mickey, Apollo or Adrian, or that Vietnamese love interest in Rambo II, Stallone relies on the demise of a loved one to give his character some purpose.
And while that kinda works here, at least if you’re looking for an hour of Rambo killing people in surprisingly inventive ways, it rings hollow.
It’s almost as if Stallone himself has killed someone undeserving, just to afford him the opportunity to make the story work.
What ensues is standard Rambo stuff, a bit like Home Alone but with more people getting spikes through the head.
By the time he’s killed everybody left in the cast, one can’t help but wonder what could have become of the final Rambo movie had someone else been able to take on the character (as Ryan Coogler did with Rocky in the Creed movies).
Rambo is a character long thought of as two dimensional, which is why the fourth movie was so interesting – Stallone took him to another place. Yet rather than cash in the chips from that success and bring Rambo full circle, Stallone has thrown them all on blood red, and lost.