When Ryan Coogler revived the “Rocky” franchise with “Creed” in 2015 after a hiatus of nearly twenty years, he succeeded by injecting it with new blood—namely, the title character played by Michael B. Jordan, with the original punch-drunk pugilist relegated to a supporting role. As the subtitle of Sylvester Stallone’s latest “Rambo” movie, the first in that franchise since 2008, suggests, “Last Blood” does not attempt a similar transfusion: it merely replicates the template of the earlier installments, with minor modifications, and as a result it’s simply redundant—and as absurdly simple-minded and violent as its predecessors. Despite the action-packed last half-hour, “Tired Blood” might be a more appropriate description of the result.
As the movie opens, Rambo is ensconced at the remote family horse ranch he repaired to after all the mayhem of the 2008 movie in Southeast Asia, though he continues to suffer from PTSD resulting from his Vietnam service—as evidenced by his regular consumption of prescribed medication and the labyrinth of tunnels, stocked with arms, that he’s constructed under the homestead to ward off prospective attackers. (The set-up makes the defenses that Nick Nolte’s reclusive geezer surrounded his cabin with in “Angel Has Fallen” look meager by comparison.) He lives there with what’s effectively his adoptive family—housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her college-bound granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), for whom he’s her doting Uncle John.
But Gabrielle feels the pangs of separation from her father Miguel (Marco de la O)), who left her and her mother years before, and has received word about his whereabouts in Mexico from Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), an old friend. Despite admonitions from both Maria and John, she goes across the border to find him. The reunion does not go well, and Gabrielle is kidnapped, with Jezel’s connivance, by a gang headed by the sleazy Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada), who force her into their prostitution ring and get her addicted to drugs.
Rambo naturally comes to her rescue, but when, with help from the reluctant Jezel, he scouts out the Martinez headquarters, he’s spotted and brutally beaten. (It’s part of the Rambo narrative that he must suffer before unleashing his full wrath. Rocky’s victories always follow severe beatings, too. There’s a strong strain of masochism in Stallone’s mythic world.) Luckily, he’s rescued by Carmen (Paz Vega), a reporter who lost her sister to the Martinez gang and is now investigating them. She nurses him back to health and gives him the information he needs to locate the brothel where Gabrielle is being kept and free her, eliminating her captors in the process.
Nonetheless events require a more definitive form of revenge, and to achieve it Rambo returns to Mexico and, by eliminating Victor Martinez in a particularly grotesque fashion, lures Hugo to cross the border with his army and assault the ranch. Naturally, Rambo has booby-trapped the place with an incredible assortment of blades, bombs and firepower, and he systematically eliminates the seemingly endless supply of hostiles before confronting Hugo one-on-one and exacting the supreme retribution, savoring every instant before taking to the rocking chair on his porch, satiated. The credits crawl is given against a montage of clips from all five of the Rambo movies, from 1982 to the present.
One has to admire to seventy-three-year-old Stallone’s ability to handle the physical demands of the Rambo role, even if the stiffness shows even apart from the action scenes. As an actor he’s as inexpressive as ever, and his mumbled delivery of dialogue remains a problem. But his world-weariness certainly fits the character at this stage. No one else in the cast can bring any subtlety to parts that are written in the broadest strokes. That’s especially true of the actors playing members of the Martinez gang, all of whom are portrayed in the most stereotypical, single-note terms.
But then the whole movie is nothing more than a grim, ultra-violent fantasy of retribution in which any hint of moral nuance or ambiguity is ignored. It offers easy satisfaction of a viewer’s bloodlust without bothering with any niceties about law or justice—after all, it’s assumed, such concepts are meaningless in Mexico. No wonder that the movie, even if one finds it satisfying in a purely visceral sense, leaves a very sour taste.
It has, however, been competently made from a purely technical standpoint. Adrian Grunberg’s direction is uninspired but adequate, and though the cinematography by Brendan Galvin and editing by Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller naturally descend into something of a muddle in the climactic assault sequence—it’s impossible to understand how many attackers there are, or what even the approximate topography of the tunnel system is—they’re generally competent, and one can always rely on Brian Tyler’s score to pump things up as required.
Could a new “Rambo” movie have rejuvenated the franchise the way “Creed” managed with the “Rocky” one? Perhaps. But this one is just a retread twenty years on, with the hero older, grayer but otherwise the same avenger-in-chief.