Thursday 3 October 2019

Film Review: Rambo – Last Blood

Sylvester Stallone saddles up for one last clash as John Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood

Former Green Beret John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has seen some serious shit since hitting cinemas screens in 1982's First Blood.

From a disillusioned Vietnam veteran and PTSD-afflicted fugitive to a one-man army dispatched to the likes of Afghanistan to fight in proxy conflicts against the Soviets, he's also evolved with the times – reflecting the political climate, more often than not at the expense of a consistent character arc.

Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth and possibly final film in the series, sees an ageing Rambo spending his autumn years on his father's old ranch in Arizona with housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabriella (Yvette Monreal).

When Gabriella makes the short trip to Mexico in search of her birth father and never returns, Rambo fears for the worst – fears that turn out to be well-founded when he learns she was drugged and kidnapped by vicious sex traffickers. Joining forces with journalist Carmen (Paz Vega), Rambo is once again forced to dredge up the past in order to free Gabriella and exact revenge on the Mexican sex traffickers threatening his ranch.

After a sluggish start, Rambo: Last Blood finds its footing once Stallone hops south of the border in search of Gabriella. The 'grizzled guardian angel' angle makes it feel derivative of Liam Neeson's turn as Brian Mills in the Taken films, but Stallone (who had a hand in Last Blood's screenplay) ensures elements of Rambo's past are rooted in the story.

A gritty and gruesome third act sees Rambo rigging a series of traps around his ranch, like a bloodthirsty Kevin McCallister. Director Adrian Grunberg doesn't pull any punches, with the gore dialled up to 11 and the home invaders on the receiving end of some seriously nasty booby traps.

The catharsis that comes from Rambo's rampage is bittersweet, largely due to the film's questionable (read: Trumpian) stance on Mexico. Not once does the violence feel like overkill, because the preceding hour goes to such extreme lengths to paint its Mexican antagonists and Mexico at large in the meanest and broadest of strokes.

Last Blood is a befuddling experience; on the one hand, it's a gruelling film that beats you over the head with blunt MAGA commentary and unflinching 'realism', and on the other hand it's a fantasy that feels so far removed from reality that you can quite easily enjoy the carnage without feeling guilty.

The Verdict: 6/10

Rambo's last ride earns a recommendation from me purely because, as a piece of action filmmaking, the gruesome finale has to be seen to be believed. But take this review with a pinch of salt, because in pandering to an audience who idolises America's idiot-in-chief and demonises Mexico, Rambo: Last Blood leaves something of bitter taste in the mouth, and loses sight of what the character initially stood for back in 1982 in the process.

Rambo: Last Blood is in cinemas across Australia now.

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