Rambo: Last Blood” is an efficient, brutal, gritty and appropriate capper (if it is indeed the capper) to Sylvester Stallone’s five-film series. It poetically marks the final point on a bell curve: “First Blood” is contained and personal. “Rambo: First Blood Part II” widens the scope and allows closure (as much as that’s possible) on the Vietnam years. “Rambo III” is an explosion-laden spectacle, but it loses character and plausibility. The fourth film, “Rambo,” reminds us of the brutality of non-cinematic war. “Last Blood” is focused and intimate again.
Director Adrian Grunberg and his team somewhat continue the washed-out palette and hand-held camerawork of the previous entry from 11 years ago, but the scope shrinks in an appealing way. Written by Stallone, Matthew Cirulnick and Dan Gordon, “Last Blood” starts by establishing that John Rambo is like an uncle to Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), a 17-year-old being raised by older relative Maria (Adriana Barraza).
Rambo, Gabrielle and Maria have a good thing going: three outcasts in a makeshift family on a wide-open Arizona ranch. Rambo is the cuddliest stone-cold killing machine ever, as his upkeep on his survivalist tunnels plays like an eccentric hobby and his fatherly love for the girl feels genuine. Gabrielle is a sweetheart who loves and respects her parental figures, but she can’t shake the question of why her father, Manuel (Marco de la O), walked out on her.
John ominously warns her to not visit her father in Mexico, which in this film stands in for the very worst of humanity. That’s saying something, considering what Rambo has seen in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Burma and the backwoods of Oregon. We don’t know why Rambo knows so much about our neighbor to the South – his level of worldliness has always been hard to define – but we were overdue for a Mexico-set “Rambo.” “Part II” was filmed in Mexico and early drafts of the fourth movie were set there.
In “Last Blood,” an unnamed Mexican city – striking by day, with its colorful houses climbing up a sprawling hillside — is place where sex traffickers run the show and where police don’t give a rip. An independent journalist, Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega), knows the name of the game, and she points Rambo in the right direction.
This Mexico is like the one from TV’s “The Bridge,” with nuance stripped away. But “Last Blood” makes up for its lack of detail and depth with a teeth-gritting and bloody entertaining rescue/revenge story. While the film may or may not accurately portray real situations, it’s all very visceral on screen.
Stallone again taps into the combination of ageless killing machine and world-weary oldster, but this time he relies less on modern guns and more on booby traps and handmade weapons (and some guns, too).
When he sets up the tunnel traps to launch the final act, rub your hands in glee and settle in for the ride. With a little web research, the bad guys could’ve looked up Rambo’s history, wisely skipped the trip to his ranch and left Rambo waiting in frustration. But outside the scope of their sex trade, they’re dumb – and we accept it, because their ignorance paves the way for a delicious fan-service conclusion.
Despite its structural similarity, “Last Blood” is a lesser film than “First Blood,” because it lacks that extra level of commentary about America’s poor treatment of returning soldiers. The sequels are set in hot-button locations and by their very existence encourage people to learn more about the real-world situations. “Last Blood” falls into that tradition, but with so many other modern works about the country available – Grunberg comes from the staff of “Narcos: Mexico” – it will tend to draw unfavorable comparisons.
But at its simple and raw heart, “Last Blood” is a darn good “Rambo” film, driven by Grunberg’s efficient direction, Stallone’s intimate knowledge of his second-most-famous character and expert kill stunts that aren’t precisely like what we’ve seen before. “Rambo” fans who have enjoyed the saga’s bell-curve journey will likely be satisfied with how “Last Blood” wraps it up.