Is the traumatized one-man army Rambo perpetrating mass bloodshed for the last time, 37 years after First Blood? The film title Rambo: Last Blood leads us to hope so.
In the 1980s, peace-loving haters and cruelty-praising admirers couldn’t agree about John Rambo, the personification of the untrammelled omnipotence of the American army. The painful thing about the fifth film is that there no longer seems to be any point in being for or against Rambo because it has become simply irrelevant.
Rambo: Last Blood does bizarrely little with the character’s notorious backstory. Rambo started as a Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD who was forced to go back to using his hunting knife and killer instinct. Audiences were not as interested in the tragedy of the character as they were in the impressive skills of the merciless killer machine. With even more bombast, extravagance, and machismo, the sequels capitalized on the bloodlust and admiration for the American super soldier who could take out whole armies singlehandedly.
At the beginning of Rambo: Last Blood there is a flicker of hope that this might be a kind of Unforgiven, the western with which Clint Eastwood brought his cowboy years to a bitter end, but ultimately this is no more than a revenge film like Taken.
Rambo has moved to the family ranch in Arizona where he occupies himself saving people, digging war tunnels, and taming horses. When his surrogate daughter is kidnapped by a Mexican prostitution cartel, the veteran has no choice but to unleash the war monster within yet again. The story is childishly simple, even by genre film standards, and the baddies are all simplistic caricatures.
The miracle of this film is that at 73, actor-screenwriter Sylvester Stallone effortlessly manages to hold his own in the exceptionally gory climax. Rambo’s executions are as cruel and explicit as a slasher movie, but there is no fun here. The montage of footage from previous films with which Last Blood closes is less nostalgic than it is funereal.