North Texas Daily

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ misfires

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ misfires

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ misfires
September 27
22:59 2019

The “Rambo” franchise is one that is well-trodden.

“First Blood” was a humble, well-made thriller, highly acclaimed for its excellent action direction, score and writing, with a timely story of a veteran dealing with PTSD and ostracization from a harsh public.

While the next two sequels are widely known for their over-the-top explosions, cartoonishly invincible hero and high body count, 2008’s “Rambo,” (or “John Rambo”) has been somewhat vindicated for trading explosions for impressive gore and examing Rambo as a human being with emotions, a defined history and genuine character development. With the prior outing in mind, did this potential swan-song deliver?

Nope, but some aspects deserve praise.

First, Sylvestor Stallone is genuinely trying here. The Rambo here feels somewhat true: world-weary and humble, yet keeping a lid on his violent past. He may be in his early 70s, but he is no less believable nor terrifyingly competent at what he’s come to be known for.

His fury is unnerving and his grief genuine, which Stallone communicates with and without words.

The actual setpieces are mostly well-crafted, with tight editing and staging, further supported by the occasional use of practical effects and extreme gore to make even the most hyperviolent horror film green with envy.

The film’s climax that has Rambo stalking two-dozen or so cartel gunmen slasher-style is the highlight, combining inventive traps with the prior film’s gratifying hyperviolence.

Adding to the positives is a decent score by Brian Tyler that remixes the nostalgic Jerry Goldsmith scores with modern cues that deliver at the right moments. Sadly, these are a crutch for what is a knockoff of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” films.

To start, the majority of the nearly 100-minute runtime is one very long slog. The script is the weakest since “Rambo III,” with the beginning featuring glimpses of a Rambo retired from a life of violence.

Sadly, this most goes unexplored, and the majority of characters are the dime-a-dozen cholos, gallon-hat wearing gangsters and overly-worrisome Hispanic nanny cardboard cutouts.

While the franchise has never had the strongest focus on character study after the original, the promises of both development and the violence of the fourth feel unfulfilled.

This is made all the more disconcerting because not only did Stallone himself co-write the script, but development went on for over a decade, with interviews making clear that great care was being taken. The story began development in 2009, with many ideas tossed about, such as a small-town style thriller in the style of the original “First Blood,” one where Rambo would lead a special forces team to fight a genetically engineered beast, and the most interesting one involving the author of the “First Blood” himself, David Morrell, though details are scarce.

The final product itself earned scorn from Morrell, who reportedly he “felt degraded and dehumanized after [he] left the theater,” in an interview from Newsweek.

While I did praise the staging and occasional use of practical gore, it should be emphasized that practical effects are only occasional. Being a production from Millenium Films, most of the fleshy carnage is bland CGI, poorly applied and especially prominent indicator of the film’s low budget, reportedly around $50 million.

Rambo’s last outing had the same, yet there were far more awe-inducing scenes done by hand over Adobe Illustrator CC style squibs.

The climax itself is undermined by clearly photoshopped corpses, which clashes with the grindhouse feel of the film which in itself is still an odd niche for a Rambo film. The last one may have had that essence with the violence, but the acting, scripting, and practical SFX elevated it.

Ultimately, “Last Blood” is a bitterly sour finale for the character. From a weak script to competent action sequences undermined by bog-standard CG, the film is a fairly mediocre action flick that belongs in the direct-to-video market.

While the “Rambo” franchise has had its ups and downs, it deserves a better finale. If only it was left well alone after 2008.

My rating: 2/5

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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