Cinematic Releases: Rambo: Last Blood (2019) - Reviewed

Iconic big screen Vietnam War veteran and one man war-machine John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has had quite a checkered past since the character first emerged in 1972 in David Morrell’s novel First Blood.  We first meet Mr. Rambo on film in 1982 as a PTSD victim being harassed by locals which trigger his own psychological wartime demons.  After the film proved to be a box office hit, Rambo was then reinvented as an escapist entertainment vehicle in the subsequent three sequels with Rambo as a superhuman soldier.  The last time we saw the one man wrecking-crew singlehandedly wipe out an entire army was in the 2008 fourth film Rambo which poised him against the Burmese infantry.

It has been eleven years since we saw John Rambo return home presumably to hang his hat after four movies of hard battling, but Sylvester Stallone wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet…until now.  After years of the project being cancelled on and off, Stallone’s Rambo is back for one last hurrah with Rambo: Last Blood.  Stepping down from the director’s chair with newcomer Adrian Grunberg helming the action packed thriller, we find John Rambo on a desperate mission to rescue his kidnapped niece from the ruthless Mexican cartel who sold her to human trafficking.

Having just seen the Mexican cartel bulldoze over just about everyone in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old to Die Young, it was refreshing to see John Rambo doling the pain and punishment right back though much like the Death Wish movies, the adversaries here are cannon fodder waiting to die at Rambo’s hands.  What separates this one from the pack, however, is the location, with Rambo instead choosing to wage war on his own turf rather than overseas.  Rambo’s look also changes considerably in this one, sporting a shorter clean haircut and having a better handle on his still alive-and-well demons than before.

Visually the film does a good job recreating the Mexican border and Rambo’s home with cavernous hidden tunnels is transformed from a homely estate to a death trap littered with mines and sharp knives.  Stallone also always has room to deliver an emotional monologue that will bring you down to his level of anger and sadness, much like the very first film.  Also Jerry Goldsmith's iconic Rambo theme music will always tug at the heartstrings every time you hear it.  

That said, as a fan of these films I still prefer Rambo which gave viewers one final look at the character as people have always known him, with long hair and a bandana.  Rambo also had a stronger political message than the new film whose conflict more or less stokes a personal fire within the character rather than fighting for something greater than himself.  Fans like myself won’t be disappointed by the action and violent bloodshed being served up but it’s not nearly as potent as what Mr. Stallone unleashed eleven years ago.

--Andrew Kotwicki