Rambo: Last Blood ★★★

You gotta love the fact that even pushing past 70 Stallone is still reprising his trademark roles of Rocky and, here, Rambo.

You also gotta love the (current yet quite common) discrepancy between the critics (28%) and audience (84%) ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for Last Blood. Obviously Rambo is no franchise suitable for the PC-wokeness of 2019 - but I guess that's the point. Instead we get a wonderful action movie in the vain of the 80s. They don't make 'em like this anymore (alas).

Probably/Maybe a lot of arguments will be made of how reactionary this movie is. It's one of the quintessential American heroes going toe-to-toe with a whole cartel of Mexican sex trafficers (aka "bad hombres" as the US president would say). It's an insulting movie, depicting criminal activities in Mexico (gasp) where these animals kidnap (American) girls to drug, rape and murder them. Only an old white male can save them - and, in effect, mankind in general (bless you, John Rambo!).

The truth is actually way more profound. Last Blood is a film of our time but also out of time. It's a movie about a man who was broken by the system and never managed to fix himself (psychologically, at least). And a fixer is what Rambo essentially boils down to: he's a tool to solve a problem. Be it the Vietnam War in First Blood, his following military tours in the sequels or recently the rescue mission for some humanitarians in John Rambo.

His nature of fixing/saving even opens this movie - at least outside of North America and the UK. A flood is endangering a group of hikers, Rambo is their only hope to survival, although he manages to save only one of them. An incident that will keep on nagging him, triggering memories of the lost war and comrades in Vietnam but also finding an echo later in the film in a heartbreaking moment. There's only so much you can do, even if you're John Rambo.

The movie itself is way more anti-MAGA as one would suspect. The flood in the beginning could be interpretated as nature out of control, a result of climate change (too bad American audiences don't get that opening in their screenings). Rambo himself has nothing against Mexicans, actually sharing a household with two Mexican women, one of whom he basically raised. He understands Spanish perfectly and is able to speak it (but does so very little which isn't out of character). Later on he meets a third Mexican character, just as sincere and warm as the other two. All of these are women, which gives Last Blood quite a misandrist angle. Gabriela's father failed her when he left the family, the Martinez brothers are despicable as are the corrupt police officers that seek their services. Fuck men, seriously.

At the beginning of the final act there is a brief but amusing cut showing Trump's (in)famous border wall to keep those murderers and rapists out of the USA. Meanwhile the cartel is crossing the border in an underground tunnel, preparing their private war against Rambo. The scene ridicules the wall and its ineffectivity - you can't keep out the bad. You can only put a lid on it, as Rambo claims in one scene.

Starting off, despite the flood incident, Rambo might have found as much tranquility as he possibly could ever get. He lives on his farm, rides his horses with Gabriela and even is on good terms with the local sheriff (I guess because the guy never pushed it...). Still Rambo suffers from PTSD, digging an extensive tunnel system under his property, preparing for some war at some time. Rambo know there will always be a war. And it will always be drawn to him and he to it.

Everything is swell until Gabriela decides against better judgement to go looking for her absentee father in Mexico. She is a duplicate of Rambo himself, looking for some kind of closure after having been discarded by her creator. Just as the army dropped Rambo after the war, leaving him to look after himself, so did Gabriela's father once her mother passed. We don't see much of Mexico, since the film runs by a pretty tight pacing, except that Gabriela looks up an old friend (and seemingly bad influence). Said friend is struggling for survival, her departure from the States seems to have not been by choice (ICE?).

As a means to survive in harsh circumstances the friend participates in one of the rare things that can bring some form of prosperity in her environment: criminal activity. Human trafficking is a serious issue in Mexico, so Last Blood isn't painting a darker picture than reality (the movie even mentions the fact that all of this is happening by some form of demand on behalf of the US). By implying that Gizelle (the friend) was deported back to Mexico the movie sketches a vicious circle that kickstarts the whole movie. If Gizelle wouldn't have been deported she wouldn't have given Gabriela the information about her father's whereabouts and wouldn't have had any reason to sell her out.

Yet again, as in First Blood, the issue at hand is homemade by the US government. And Rambo has to pick up the pieces. Which he does, in gruesome fashion. The action is so over-the-top violent that you can't help but laugh when Rambo pulls out a collarbone with his bare hands or later on decapitates multiple people in various (CGI) ways. Last Blood manages to also highlight the strenghts and weaknesses of the character. Rambo is the ultimate guerilla but he needs an environment he knows and can traverse. A visit to the Martinez' favela ends in a quick and brutal beating, since Rambo is not made for street fights and urban warfare. But if he can move in the shadows, he turns into an unstoppable force. Your worst nightmare.

There is some generic oneliner mumbo-jumbo and a good intended but not well sold closing voice-over but outside of that Last Blood seems like a solid finish for the character. Truth be told, if you'd switch out Stallone for Liam Neeson this could have been rebranded into Taken 4 without effort. As such, Last Blood is similarly a Rambo-movie as Die Hard with a Vengeance was a Die Hard-film (being based on a script intended for the Lethal Weapon franchise). Outside of that this is still the same old Rambo, dropped by the (political) system, forced to fight his battles alone. Once Gabriela is kidnapped neither the US authorities can help nor are the Mexican ones willing to. This again is evoking the opening of the film, where it's Rambo, not the sheriff and his men, who rescue the hikers (at least this time Rambo gets a 'thank you', compared to his return from Vietnam).

If this movie would've come out in 1988 it would've kicked ass. And since it's based on an 80s character I will not dismiss it for not being vanilla enough. Last Blood is old-school - just like its main character (although he regrettably does not wear his headband here). You can feel Rambo's weariness and pain and you can relate to it. All you want is for the poor guy to enjoy a sunset in his rocking chair.

You do you, uncle John.

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