It’s hard to imagine a franchise featuring a more unlikely action hero than the shell-shocked John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) of 1982’s First Blood. First Blood is a tense, dramatic film where it’s not entirely clear who the hero even is. His final rampage in the small town whose police have abused him is not the work of a sane man. The sequels seemed to seize obliviously onto the most obvious aspect of Rambo’s persona: his ability to beat anyone in combat no matter the odds. This isn’t to say they’re not entertaining, but you really aren’t following the same character as the first film.
In Adrian Grunberg‘s Rambo: Last Blood, Rambo is finally settled on his family farm with an adopted family, Gabriela (Yvette Monreal) and her grandmother (Adriana Barraza). When, despite warnings, Gabriela sneaks off to Mexico to track down her absentee father and is captured by a cartel, it’s up to John to rescue her.
If you’re expecting rollicking action silliness in the style of episodes 2, 3 or Commando, this isn’t it. This is an uncompromisingly grim film that ratchets up the suffering for all involved until the villains are finally lured into Rambo’s elaborately-constructed tunnel network. And then it suddenly turns into a comically violent slaughter. The finale is so insanely bloodthirsty that our audience was screaming, laughing and clapping at the same time. It’s hard to describe as anything less than entertaining but in terms of depicting poor Rambo as a hero, it’s madness.
Rambo: Last Blood is not a great movie. It’s barely a good one. It’d almost be a good send-off for John Rambo, but his final turn takes him from justifiable vengeance and self-defence to outright horror-villain sadism. It’s fun when the guns are blazing but I think it’s fair to say the series is long past being taken remotely seriously, and when Rambo finally gets his revenge it’s so psychopathic that he goes from hero to a cartoon parody of action stars. If you don’t care much about Rambo, this is entertaining in a bonkers way. If you do care about Rambo, just stick to First Blood.