My notes on Rambo: Last Blood
I don’t think it’s original with me – it might be hinted at in David Morrell’s novelisations – but I think it makes sense to look at the sequels to First Blood as the Owl Creek Bridge fantasy of Vietnam veteran John Rambo as he dies, as he did in Morrell’s novel, after his guerilla war against the small-town Sheriff and his redneck deputies. One oddity is that after a story in which the psychologically wounded ex-soldier – traumatised as much by being turned into a killing machine by his own government as anything done to him by the enemy – goes to war against America the sequels have turned him loose against whatever foreign foe might have been in the news when the scripts got greenlit … Vietnamese communists, Soviet aggressors, Burmese baddies … and now a Mexican sex slave cartel.
This isn’t quite a build-the-wall Trump endorsement, though everyone easily crosses the US-Mexico border with an arsenal of weapons needed for the climactic battle scene – and director Adrian Grunberg must be the most hated filmmaker at the Mexican Tourist Board since he previously pitched Mel Gibson into battle with hordes of scurvy cartel vermin in How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo). Apparently, an earlier draft of this script by Stallone and Dan Gordon – who wrote the most genial First Blood imitation imaginable, the literal James Garner vehicle Tank – was set aside and wound up repurposed as the Jason Statham vehicle Homefront, so it’s been goosed again by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick.
It’s standard stuff, and the fact that some territories will be seeing a version that’s ten minutes longer than the UK release probably explains why I still couldn’t tell you exactly what relationship retiree Rambo (still Stallone) has to the family of teenager Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), whose kidnapping while on a trip to look up her estranged father gets the crusty, pill-popping, knife-whittling old maniac off his horse and back on the vengeance trail. There’s always been an interesting seam of masochism in the movies, albeit tamped down from the original novel, in that the hero passive-aggressively gets into situations whereby other people wrong him or people close to him so he can make a show of only reluctantly going into a murder-maze montage to get back to the only real home he’s ever had – a war.
Here, that’s clumsily laid out in a dull first act full of foreshadowing, underscored in a saggy middle where Rambo is martyred again (and poor Gabrielle gets treated worse) and an ‘independent journalist’ (Paz Vega) gives a know-your-villains lecture about brother bastards Hugo (Sergio Peris-Menchetta) and Victor (Oscar Jaenada), and then paid off in the expected finale – which evokes Skyfall, Home Alone and the grand-daddy of this sort of thing Geoffrey Household’s novel Rogue Male (an avowed inspiration for Morrell) – as an army descends on and into the booby-trapped tunnels Rambo has dug under his Arizona ranch.
Given that it’s obvious that there are death-dealing devices everywhere, you’d think not even coked-up Mexican psychos would charge in en masse with no intel or plan and get killed off one by one until it’s only Rambo and the Big Bad left for a final face-off … but, no, this is exactly that stupid kind of movie. It had some major reshoots, and evidence remains of plot threads that might once have paid off – after a beating from the goons who inexplicably (and unwisely) don’t kill him, a doctor says he has a concussion and should stay away from loud noises and flashing lights … while he also throws away the (antipsychotic?) meds he chugs like breath-mints when the film remembers the hero is supposed to be a traumatised vet … but there’s no payoff for this, when surely he ought to be overcome by his failing health at the last minute to allow the villain the upper hand before he conquers his own ailments in order to mete out rough justice.
Shot in Spain and Bulgaria, posing as Mexico and Arizona, this feels more like the sort of thing Danny Trejo could toss off over a long weekend than the last hurrah of a character who – like it or not – is one of the signature action heroes of the last forty years.