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[Herald Review] ‘Rambo’ series wheezes to an exhausted end in ‘Last Blood’

Oct. 16, 2019 - 14:43 By Yoon Min-sik
Old soldiers never die; they simply fade away. And old heroes die hard, leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.

I always thought of the “Rambo” franchise as one of those series that went downhill after the iconic first film, and “Rambo: Last Blood” -- which seems to be the last one -- does nothing to change that. While the ’80s action by one of my childhood heroes was somewhat satisfying, it became routine a few scenes in.

The film picks up where the events of the previous one in the series left off, as war-tested, traumatized war veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) settles down in his hometown. He appears to have found peace at long last, sharing his deceased father’s horse ranch with old friend Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal).

But trouble rears its head when Gabriela goes missing en route to finding her biological father in Mexico.

“Rambo: Last Blood” (JNC Media Group)

After the initial joy of seeing Rambo on screen again, I couldn’t help but notice that this flick feels kind of ... old. Not because of the now-73-year-old Stallone, but because of the one-dimensional, straightforward structure of the film.

This is odd considering that the script was written by Stallone himself, a man who beautifully wrote “Rocky Balboa” before also directing and starring in it.

This is one of those films where all the characters lack depth except for the main character, with everyone else reduced to props in setting up a massive blood fest -- a flaw that has characterized all films in the Rambo series after “First Blood.” While I’m not a particular fan of that particular turn in the franchise, I’m even more baffled by the direction that this film takes.

The movie methodically sets up the action that leads to the climax, but doesn’t care to build up the stories along the way. As a result, the rest of the film feels like filler.

None of the side stories leads anywhere, except toward Rambo’s revenge, which results in none of the characters being relatable. The big baddies in the film do not feel menacing or threatening because I know they are just there to be slaughtered in the end.

The same goes for good guys. Even seeing an innocent young girl about to be sold to a horrible prostitution ring wasn’t enough to be concerned about her, because I knew so little about this character. There wasn’t enough character building anywhere, which made it really hard to be invested in anything they did or went through.

Everything is simplified. Mexico is one of the world’s major economies, a country with complex problems. Here, it is depicted just as a “bad neighborhood” that is half-a-day’s drive away from the peaceful ranch in Arizona.

Unlike the first film, this film lacks serious thinking about real-world issues, which is weird considering that they were both written by the same guy. Maybe the film could have ventured into the structural issues in rural Mexico that foster criminal activities, but instead it glosses over them to introduce comic book villains and victims.

It feels like everyone is playing their role solely for John Rambo’s last on-screen hurrah. Frankly I think Stallone was too attached to this character and wanted a big, macho, 1980s action-star-type send-off.

Perhaps Stallone was pumped up by the rejuvenation of his “Rocky” series, and he attempted to epitomize how our hero had aged with nostalgic grace by showing the twilight of Rambo.

Whatever the case may be, “Rambo: Last Blood” isn’t a bit inspiring, nor does it offer any fresh perspective as a film. It felt like a rehash of the old, formerly beloved character trying to relive his glory days. Simply put, the franchise has overstayed its welcome.

The film opens in local theaters Oct. 23.

By Yoon Min-sik (