There’s no film franchise with a narrative arc quite like Rambo‘s. Despite its status in the action-hero pantheon, it began as an almost seventies-style, disaffected riff on the alienation returning veterans from Vietnam felt. That was 1982’s First Blood, which notably didn’t even have “Rambo” in the title.
John Rambo became a full-fledged superhero in 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, in which Rambo was sent to Vietnam to recover POWs who’d been hung out to dry by pencil-necked politicians, and in essence retroactively re-won a losing war for the USA. Rambo III sent Rambo to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, in a film initially dedicated to “the brave men and women of the Mujahideen” (oops!).
Rambo has always personified the meathead Boomer id of whatever era in which the corresponding sequel was released. First Blood now feels more like Dog Day Afternoon than Commando, but in the subsequent sequels, Rambo became an integral part of Reaganism’s jingoistic overcompensating. When Rambo returned in 2008’s Rambo, a 62-year-old, HGH-inflated Stallone spent a good 40 minutes of screen time murdering Burmese soldiers in ways much more graphic and gory than anything in the “original” trilogy. Rambo no longer simply killed bad guys, he mutilated their corpses as an example to others. With no Evil Empire left to fight he just kind of stood in a field screaming “COME AT ME!”
Rambo was peak late aughts gore porn. His fight was less geopolitical than existential. Instead of overcompensating for America‘s past failings, he’d become vicarious overcompensation for every aging meathead’s fear that they could no longer kick ass. You can essentially measure every dad and grandad-bro’s sense of mortality by Stallone’s chest and the total ccs of onscreen blood and gore in that era’s Rambo movie.
It’s Stallone’s unique gift to be able to tap directly into that vein of secret homicidal discontent. Thus, it’s fitting that Trump-era Rambo is essentially a human border wall keeping out Mexican rapists and murderers.
In Rambo: Last Blood, 73-year-old Sylvester Stallone has completed his transition from comely leading man to grievance politics human gargoyle. He’s more jacked than ever and impressively spry, but his face looks like a sewn together flesh mask made from Buffalo Bill’s murder victims. His lower lip juts out at an impossible angle and facial surgeries (one assumes) have pulled his cheek skin so taut that the red goo of the tear duct matrix beneath his eyeballs is constantly exposed to the breeze. If once you had to know that Rambo was a former Green Beret and ‘Nam-era super soldier to believe he was a bad guy’s worst nightmare, now all you have to do now is look at him. He’s legitimately terrifying, the stuff of North Korean propaganda cartoons.
Last Blood is somehow both a rollicking good time and a racist rape-revenge fantasy you can imagine ISIS recruits and school shooters separately jerking off to. In Rambo, Rambo was an ex-pat running river tours and killing cobras in Southeast Asia. Last Blood begins on John Rambo’s horse farm in rural Arizona, where he breaks horses, builds a system of tunnels for fun, and has apparently been raising his high school-aged niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) since she was a child.
Hold on, whose child is this? (Later there’s a shot of a headstone reading, I shit you not, “Helga Rambo”). When did Rambo buy a ranch in Arizona and learn Spanish? Who is this Mexican woman (Adriana Barraza) running his household who he seems to be related to? That Last Blood can only sorta-kinda be bothered to explain any of these things is part of the beauty of it. It knows that the justifications for ownage matter less than the ownage itself.
It’s all a setup for Last Blood to live out every assault rifle owner’s worst fears and most insane fantasies about Mexico. The only way it could be more transparent is if Stallone had growled “I. Am. The Wall!” in his best Judge Dredd voice.
Gabrielle is about to go off to college, and her surrogate dadgoyle Rambo loves her so dang much that he lets her party with her friends in the system of tunnels he’s built under his ranch. (“I had a lot of free time, and I like to dig,” he growls, by way of explanation). But before she can drive off into the sunset and collect on years of study and good decisions, she wants to see her real father. And it turns out her cousin down in Mexico has found him. Rambo, naturally, begs her not to go. Mexico?! Are you insane?! He makes her promise. She defies him.
Down in Mexico, Gabrielle meets up with Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), a cousin styled as if neither the makers of Last Blood nor anyone on the set had been to Mexico or seen a Mexican person since the release of Stand And Deliver. Jezel wears pleated khakis, dark lipliner, and a bandanna in her hair, and generally tries to be a bad influence. How could she not be! This is Mexico, Jake.
Gabrielle spends one night (ONE NIGHT!) in Mexico and immediately gets drugged, raped, and sold into sex slavery. Last Blood needs something to justify the impending 30-minute massacre and goes to aburd lengths. At one point, Rambo’s niece asks him how he stays sane with all the bad memories swimming around in his head. “I’m just barely keeping a lid on it,” he tells her.
At some point after her kidnap, we see Rambo toss an unidentified bottle of pills to the floor, scattering them on the concrete. I leaned over to my date and whispered, “Oh no, those were his Not-Killing-Mexicans Pills!”
What follows is an absolute supernova of unnecessarily gory violence in which Stallone kills each individual bad guy about ten times over. Multiple beheadings, disembowelings, fraggings, and impalings. At one point, two bad guys fall into a pit of horrific-looking homemade rebar punji sticks. As they lay there moaning, thumbtacked to the floor like notes on the devil’s bulletin board, Rambo walks up and calmly unloads half a clip of automatic rifle fire into their mangled torsos. At another, Rambo interrogates a cartel soldier by ripping out the guy’s exposed collar bone with his bare hands.
It’s so genuinely horrific I’m convinced there are real-life cartel videos celebrating the torture of rivals that are less gory. I was either howling with nervous laughter or covering my face the entire time.
The subtext of it all, of course, is essentially the immigration version of the right-wing meme where gun owners dare libs to come take their assault rifles. “You rapist, murdering drug gangs want to cross the border? I’ve got some tunnels you can use.” This followed by a 30-minute supercut of Rambo delivering every form of over-the-top vigilante justice short of actually gnashing the bad guys’ bones with his teeth.
This movie is the product of truly deranged minds. It’s a must-see.