The line, ‘They drew first blood, not me’, by Vietnam veteran John Rambo in the 1982 film, First Blood, is fondly remembered by fans of the franchise. It’s an achievement that this franchise — with its long-haired protagonist armed with a headband and an M60 machine gun — is still up and running, 37 years later. With each film, the question is, do you want to reinvent or simply capitalise? The latest installment, however, seems happy to do the latter.
The title, Rambo: Last Blood, indicates that this could be the last time we see John James Rambo in action. The story is about Rambo going after his kidnapped niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). Why niece? Because blood is thicker than water. At least director Adrian Grunberg seems to have been convinced that the premise is interesting enough to make Sly flex his muscles.
One of the first shots of the film shows a small tour in and around Rambo’s home in his long-estranged family’s ranch. In a blink-and-miss shot, we see a room filled with things — memorabilia for him and easter eggs for us – with everything from the Vietnam War veteran flag, photos of his fellow brothers in arms, a lot of guns and even the machete that he used in the last film (2008’s Rambo). Little did I know then that this would be the last pleasure I would have in this film.
Considering that the war veteran has seen trouble in his homeland as well as in countries far away from home including Vietnam, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Thailand, Mexico seems to be a pretty cliched choice. Using the Mexican cartel as villains is perhaps the second most used trope by Hollywood — after, of course, the Russians (like in Rambo 3 (1988)). Interestingly, director Adrian Grunberg’s debut film, the audacious yet entertaining Get the Gringo, was also set in Mexico. Last Blood is quite happy to promote xenophobia and harmful stereotypes. Given the current political developments and the struggle of immigrants, a scene that has Rambo driving pickup truck over a thin barbed wire fence, to indicate border crossing, had me in splits.
As for Rambo himself, the film touches upon his post-traumatic stress disorder only superficially. There are sequences like the one where he gets told, “You are not in your war anymore. It’s only in your head,” and another, when Gabrielle tells Rambo that he’s changed, and he calmly replies, “I’ve not changed. I have just learnt to put a lid on it.” This emotion, however, only rings artificial and never hits you as it did in previous instalments.
Saving the worst for the last, the goriness in this film is seemingly embraced with way too much love. With the film hardly containing the sort of action that made this franchise so popular, when it does come in the final showdown, it only filled me with regret for wishing for it. The film, in a sense, tries to tread the path of Logan but gets waylaid quite early on. If the first half reminds you of Taken, the climax makes you wonder if all they have to evoke the Rambo nostalgia is over-the-top violence. Though it is admittedly fascinating to watch Rambo set booby traps for the bad guys, the results here are absurdly brutal.
Sly has already hung up the boots of his most iconic character — Rocky Balboa — and turned into a coach in the Creed films. Rambo: Last Blood gets you wishing something of that sort happens to this franchise too. Among the strangely gory scenes in this film is one that has Rambo ripping open the thoracic cavity of a man and pulling out his heart. Walking out, I could relate to the pain.
Film: Rambo: Last Blood
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Yvette Monreal, Sergio Peris-Mencheta
Rating: 3 stars