Here’s a fun sentence: What if you took Taken (after all, Rambo was filmed prior to the phenomenon that was 2008’s Taken, so it clearly influenced Rambo: Last Blood, even though it came out 11 years later, they were already talking about Rambo rescuing a sex trafficked victim around that time) and combined it with a rated R version of Home Alone, set it in the revenge genre, and have it star John Rambo? I just described 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood. For some reason, this film escaped my radar and I didn’t even know it was a thing until I started digging into the Rambo franchise. This was my first viewing.
I will say, having not known anything about the film, I was a bit confused. First, Rambo has a family? And I’m still not sure, and Wikipedia isn’t clear, is the girl, Gabriela, who gets sex trafficked just someone he’s a quasi-uncle to (as Gabriela calls him) her or is she his adopted daughter? And who is Maria Beltran, the grandmother, and where did she come from? So, I find all of that confusing. But be that as it may, it’s all a setup so that Gabriela will go to Mexico in search of her real dad to find out why he abandoned her (and her now-dead mother), and shocker, it turns out, he’s a huge jerk, her friend from Mexico sells her out to a sex trafficking drug cartel in Mexico, and now it’s up to Rambo to save the day.
As the movie progressed, I was definitely getting those Taken vibes, but as it continued to progress, I was getting rather despondent because of how much Gabriela was being drugged and how it was being insinuated that she’d been raped repeatedly. There’s a certain point at which a line becomes cross and the “rescue” is moot. That is, sure, it’s better if she lives, of course, but for a rescue story, once she’s gone through something as bad as being raped repeatedly it’s hard to call it a rescue. So, then, I realized, oh wow, they’re going to kill that character off. This is a revenge film. Okay, then. That’s a departure from the franchise, as Rambo failed. For the first time, he failed to “win.”
To back up, though, Sylvester Stallone is old in this one. Like, old! In the prior film, he was in his 60s, but he still was running around like a maniac like it was 1989 again. But in this one, he’s more a lumbering monster than the Rambo of old (heh). He was around 72 at the time of filming. I get it. But just know, it’s a different kind of Rambo film.
But also, Rambo is a bit dumb in this one. At first, at least. He goes lumbering into Mexico to find Gabriela and instead of being smart about it, lumbers right into a trap of about three dozen cartel members with guns on him. On top of that, when the two drug cartel leaders (who are brothers) begin questioning him, he reacts when they talk about Gabriela, thus, letting them know she’s of significance. Come on, Rambo!
One other part that didn’t make much sense to me is we get the Paz Vega character Carmen Delgado, a journalist whose sister also was trafficked and killed by the cartels, who helps Rambo. But that’s about it. It was a welcome departure from the Rambo franchise formula to finally have a woman involved in what seemed like it was going to be a big way, but instead, she turned out to mostly be someone who nurses him back to health, advises him against taking on the cartels, and not a whole lot else. When we first see her in the bar, I was thinking she was going to be with the Mexican police, already there to take down the cartels, and would work alongside Rambo. Imagine the scene that takes place at the end, but with her also kicking butt. That’s a wasted opportunity in my view.
After that initial situation in Mexico, however, Rambo gets smart and goes back to Mexico, somehow is easily able to infiltrate the one brother’s house and kill his men and him (but it’s off-screen, which is weird?), and in so doing, lures the entire cartel to his house in Arizona, where he’s Home Alone-ed the home rated R style. Explosions. Grisly traps. Guns. The works. Although, is it really that easy for a drug cartel to waltz over the border loaded with weapons like that? I guess so.
It’s also another departure from the Rambo franchise, as typically, Rambo goes somewhere to rescue the person in question. Not only did the person in question die here, but this time, he lures them back to his playing field. He’s old, man. He can’t do that jungle crap anymore.
All of this said, it sounds like I don’t like the film, and I will say, it’s a bit derivative, a departure in some ways as I’ve outlined, and nonsensical (like giving him a family out of nowhere for plot purposes), but as I’ve repeatedly said throughout the prior four films in the franchise I’ve reviewed: Stallone, man. Stallone makes anything work, and I will hear nothing contrary! It’s hard not to love his old man face uttering his guttural lines and LITERALLY STICKING HIS HAND THROUGH A MAN’S CERVICAL BONE (or somewhere around there; I’m not good at anatomy) AND THEN AT THE END OF THE FILM, CUTTING A MAN’S HEART OUT.
It’s Stallone. It’s Rambo. It’s violent as all heck. And it’s fun. If I could tweak one thing, it would have been giving Vega more to do with her character and instead turning her into someone who is also trying to take down the cartels. Let her kick some cartel butt.
One other positive: The use of The Doors’ song, “Five to One,” off of their 1968 album, Waiting for the Sun, during the tunnel climax. Very cool song. Am I a Doors fan now? At least going by this one song.
I stand behind my viewpoint from the previous review: The Rambo franchise through five films (so far?) is a consistent, solid and fun action franchise that holds up all the way through its sequels better than the Die Hard franchise. Going by the title, this also seems to be the last in the series, but who knows. Regardless, heck of a franchise that’s well-worth your time if you’re into fun action films.