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‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Isn’t Just Bad, It’s Stupid

With a better plot and some self-awareness, the fifth installment of the Sylvester Stallone action franchise could’ve been fun, clever, and interesting. It isn’t.

Lionsgate/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

The new Rambo movie, Rambo: Last Blood, is not good. It’s bad, in fact. Quite bad, really. It’s clunky and uncoordinated and inert. (And that’s nothing to say of the racial politics, which are substantial, and important; you can read more about them here.) There’s no real emotion in it (like the kind in the first Rambo movie), or any real fun in it (like that of the all-gas-no-brakes sequel), or any real anything in it (even 2008’s Rambo allowed Rambo his headband).

There’s a stretch at the end of Last Blood when Rambo kills 40 or so bad guys in various ways, all of which are gruesome, some of which are startlingly gruesome, and so I guess there’s at least that. But as far as killing sprees go, it’s not exciting the way, say, the church scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service was (that one was exciting because of the good-guy-turned-momentarily-bad twist, and the song, and the one-take camera trick) or the way the nightclub scene in John Wick was (that one was exciting because it was a reinvention and championing of John Woo’s brilliant gun-fu actionery) or the way the hardware store scene in The Equalizer was (that one was exciting because Denzel Washington, the finest actor of his generation, hangs a guy with barbed wire). The Last Blood killing spree is none of those things. It’s just … there. A guy gets his head blown off and another guy gets his foot lopped off and another guy gets his skull obliterated into three separate parts and you’re just kind of sitting there in the theater like, “Man, why isn’t this cooler? This should be cooler.”

This is the plot of Last Blood, the first Rambo movie in over a decade and the fifth overall in the franchise: John Rambo lives and works on a horse ranch with an old woman (Maria) and her granddaughter (17-year-old Gabrielle). Gabrielle has just graduated high school and is headed to college. Before she leaves, though, she sneaks off to Mexico to visit the father who abandoned her and her then-dying (now dead) mother. When she goes down there, her friend betrays her and sells her into a sex-trafficking ring. Rambo goes to save her. He gets beat up. An independent journalist investigating the sex traffickers/cartel members nurses him back to health. He rescues Gabrielle, but only momentarily. She’s so battered that she dies on the ride back to the ranch. (She’d gotten drugged, then had a symbol carved into her face, then was drugged some more, then was raped, then was drugged some more, then was raped some more.)

Rambo decides everyone has to die. He sets up a bunch of booby traps around his property (he’s still a tunnel enthusiast, so he has lots of tunnels built under the ranch, which he also fills with booby traps), then goes back to Mexico. He kills one of the leaders of the sex-trafficking ring by cutting his head off and stealing it, leaves the other leader a picture of Gabrielle so that they know who’s responsible, then goes back to his ranch and waits. The bad hombres show up, and they all get killed in that above-mentioned killing spree. He tells the boss that when Gabrielle died it felt like he’d had his heart ripped out of his body, so guess what? He kills the last guy by shooting four arrows at him, pinning him to the wall of the barn, then he cuts the guy’s chest open and pulls his heart out. And again, minus all of the horrible things that happen to Gabrielle, it’s easy to read that description and say, “That sounds like a fun-in-the-gory-way action movie. And I am an action movie fan. I wouldn’t mind watching that.” But then you watch it. And it’s just like, “... Nope. Pretty sucky. Pre-tty, pre-tty sucky.”

David Morrell created the John Rambo character in 1972. He was the lead character in his novel First Blood, which eventually became the movie First Blood. David Morrell went and saw the new Rambo movie. And then David Morrell said that it was so bad that he felt he was “less a human being for having seen it.”

(Part of me wonders whether Morrell, like most other people who were excited when it was announced that the new Rambo movie was going to be called “Last Blood,” had assumed that there’d be some kind of tie-in to First Blood. Like, maybe we’d pick up with Rambo after his Burma adventure in Rambo—which, if you squint, did an OK job of presenting Rambo again as the tormented soldier—and find him back in America dealing with the aftereffects of a lifetime of killing. And maybe we’d see him befriend a young soldier because he sees the young soldier struggling the same way he was struggling in First Blood. And maybe we’d see Stallone lean masterfully into that the way we saw him lean masterfully into Rocky Balboa’s vulnerability when Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan jump-started the Rocky franchise with Creed in 2015. That’d have been pretty great. But we didn’t get that. We didn’t get any of that.)

I suspect that, because I am Mexican, many people will assume that the reason I didn’t like Last Blood is a combination of (a) the bad guys in it are Mexican, and (b) right now seems like a bad time to make a movie about an old white man killing a bunch of Mexicans, what with there being an old white man trying to kill a bunch of Mexicans in real life currently. But that’s not it at all. I just didn’t like it because it wasn’t fun (like, to illustrate this particular point, Assassins, which had a Latino bad guy). Or clever (like Demolition Man, which had a Black bad guy). Or sexually interesting (like The Specialist, which doesn’t have a person of color for a bad guy, but we get to see Stallone have sex in a shower, which should count for something). Here’s an example of the blockheadedness I’m talking about with Last Blood:

When Rambo returns to Mexico to kill the first boss so as to lure the rest of the bad guys to his ranch, he does so by cutting the guy’s head off. We don’t see that part, though. We see Rambo mow his way through a few lackeys, then step into the boss’s room. There’s no one there. Then Rambo notices that a shower is running in the bathroom. He starts walking toward it, and that’s that.

The next scene is a bunch of police and cartel members outside and inside of the house. They’re all standing around holding guns surveying the damage. We follow along with the other main boss as he enters the first boss’s room. And that’s when we see the body. Rambo set the beheaded carcass on the bed for maximum effect. And right when we see that the guy’s head is gone, the camera cuts to Rambo’s truck as he’s driving down the highway toward his ranch. He reaches his arm and holds the head by the hair, then drops it as he drives.

And it’s very obvious that that moment is supposed to elicit a certain kind of response. (My guess is that they want viewers to applaud right there. Short of that, my guess is that they want viewers to say something to themselves like, “Fuck yeah.” And short of even that, they at least want viewers to feel a jolt of electric energy, like the way it felt when he walked into the gladiator ring during the stick fight scene in Rambo III.)

But the scene doesn’t work. It just feels … I don’t know. Stupid, probably. Like, why did he take the head with him if he was just going to get rid of it anyway? How long was he holding it in his lap before he hung it out of the window? Did he have it in a bag or did the inside of his truck get all dirty with blood? None of it makes any sense. It feels like a group of people were in the room spitballing ideas and someone said, “We should have a scene in there where we reveal that Rambo’s cut a guy’s head off, and then immediately cut to him driving down the road and see him throw it out the window.” And then a second guy was like, “That’s definitely what we should do.” And then a third guy was like, “Why would he do that?” And then the first guy was like, “Who fucking cares?! Let’s just do it! And check this out! I can play the national anthem on the electric guitar!” That’s how they made Rambo: Last Blood. It’s the opposite of how they made First Blood. That’s why it wasn’t good.