Movie Review: Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

 
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Movie Review: Rambo – Last Blood (2019)

Directed by Adrian Grunberg,

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal

Genre – Action, Mexploitation (101 min.)

I have always been a fan of the Rambo franchise. Also, because they tackle real-life problems and cut right through it – quite literally. PTSD, POWs, war, genocide and other dark themes evolve around Rambo’s cinematic universe. Now a topic is added: femicide and human trafficking at the US-Mexican border.

What is it about

Last time we saw Rambo, he finally arrived home to Arizona at his father’s ranch. Now, he is living with Gabrielle, his niece, and her grandmother Maria, working with horses, and enjoying his free time in the (Vietcong-like) tunnels he built underneath the ranch.

One day, Gabrielle gets a phone call: one of her friends found out where her disappeared father lives: she burns to know why he left. Her family is absolutely against it as he is a bad person not caring about her at all. But she cannot let it go and meets him. And he is very honest with her. Upset, as she is, her friend wants to console her and they party at a shady discotheque. The next thing she knows she is a sex slave for some thugs called the Martinez brothers.

Rambo finds out where she is but after entering the Martinez’ area they overwhelm him (without killing him but making their intentions clear) and take notice of Gabrielle from the photo he has with him –she gets the needle and ends up in a brothel.

Rambo is saved by a journalist whose sister ended up like Gabrielle and died. After he regains his strength, he finally finds Gabrielle in the brothel – but it’s too late: she dies on the way home.

Grief-stricken and heartbroken, Maria leaves the ranch, and Rambo – awaiting the Mexicans – builds booby traps in the tunnel system. He wants revenge and goes back where he kills one of the Martinez’ brothers and leaving a message for the other. Soon enough, the bad guys arrive at the ranch and die one by one, until the severely injured Rambo nails Martinez to the barn and rips out his heart.

What to expect

When you watched and enjoyed the last Rambo movie, then this one is the perfect continuation and it would make a perfect double feature as the tone and themes are very similar (like I and II essential are similar). It is ultra-violent and gritty; it resembles a 70ies grindhouse experience. The only comparable movie I could come up with is maybe a mixture of Death Wish (with C. Bronson) and Straw Dogs (with D. Hoffman), applied to Rambo’s character.

Critics forget that it does not make sense to compare this movie to any other as the movie only makes sense in a Rambo cinematic universe. Even the author of First Blood David Morrell claims you could name the character John Smith and it would be fine – but I highly disagree. Last Blood would not make any sense otherwise, or who else would build tunnels on his farm, or who else would be a “realistic” one man army (and Rambo has a proven record being one). Also calls for xenophobia etc. are very misplaced as the movie tackles a real-life problem (like all the others did before) and cuts right through it in its most gruesome way.

There are two alternative versions of the movie beginning: the (longer) version I saw starts in a rainstorm in the middle of a rescue, 3 missing hikers in danger of getting caught in a flood. Rambo is in the woods tracking the hikers, he finds a girl dead, then further down finds the other two, the flood water starts running down and Rambo ties himself, his horse and a girl to a rock while the initial rush of water cascades over them. He then returns to the base with the girl and sees the guy who ran off getting his body bag loaded into an ambulance which triggers his PTSD. He returns home to his family and relax in the tunnels clearly upset about the events and puts a CD on (5 to 1, by The Doors)… when he has PTSD flashbacks in the tunnels it is intercut with the dead hiker.

When I heard the Doors song I knew I would love the movie, is it also the song during the final fight scene. It is a very strong, intense beginning of a movie and establishes Rambo as a valuable, well-known and appreciated member of society, not a loner or lunatic that lives alone in his tunnels building traps etc. So, we have a clear character story arch in this version, providing some context and a reference to First Blood, whereby the other version doesn’t.

I wonder why they cut the beginning for the US, UK and Canada? It makes the movie so much better!

What I liked about this movie

I have to admit I am hard-wired to love Rambo movies. Therefore, I am even more critical of them – like with everything I love dearly. The movie is heartbreaking from the beginning – the battle in the mountains foreshadows the battle on the ranch where you win and lose at the same time. As Rambo is battled by nature with fierce brutality, the human traffickers are battled with the same force. Just one simple decision can destroy your life and the lives of your family.

Like in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood it is basically revenge porn, but more contemporary, and it works also outside our culture as human trafficking is a brutal world-wide phenomenon destroying millions of lives and families. That’s also like the last Rambo movies worked.

You could say the story is simplistic, like a variation of a 70ties revenge flick like Death Wish. However, they did it – like in all Rambo movies - again right: they made it personal, even more so this time. A story that is not personal is flat and boring. It is about family, not politics. It’s about saving, not killing. It is about the value of (female) life.

What I did NOT like

The only thing unpredictable in this movie is the level of brutality – I guess SS knew this that’s why they did it (like in the last Rambo movie). Why doing something when you cannot offer something new? When it is difficult to add something to the story, dial up something else and make it work.

Rather unbelievable is the stupidity of the villains when storming Rambo’s ranch – either they did not know who they are dealing with or they are just thoughtless henchmen. Also, I wished the final fight would have been longer and not as rushed, with an adversary that could actually compete with Rambo. But I read SS wanted to concentrate on the characters and the story that’s why the action is more condensed – well, fair enough.

I am not sure Rambo needed to go down this storytelling road, but it would pave the way to a last, spiritual journey in an Indian Reservation as the LAST STAND (as mentioned by SS).

Conclusion

You may disagree with the ultra-violence and the alleged politics – but then every violent film could be considered sexist, racist or whatever. When Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez create an ultra-violent movie, they are applauded and get awards.

What I do not get is the alleged Republican message all the Rambo movies supposedly have – in my opinion, it is quite the opposite: soldiers mistreated and left alone by their own government, whole countries left alone by the world communities and finally, the victims of human trafficking left alone when they need our help the most. It’s always about desperate measures after an extended time of abuse and being abandoned. I see a deep concern about the world and of our state as a society in this movies. Violence is not the answer. Only for those who know nothing else.

The low ratings for this movie I only can explain by the inability to enjoy honest and gritty entertainment and the obsession with commenting and turning on all that does not have a happy ending and a subtext that makes you feel guilty. Marvel and Star Wars movies seemed to have weakened the stomach of the common movie goers – it is sad to see the direction our movie culture is going. The inability to stomach hard facts will bite our Gluteus Maximus one day. When will it be too late and everything is white washed to the standard Disney movie?

Thank you LAST BLOOD for your honesty and I hope to see you back, Mr. Rambo.

 
 

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