HEAT VISION

How 'Last Blood' Trailer Shows the Humanity in Rambo

Perhaps the politicized Sylvester Stallone hero is none of the things audiences have made him out to be over the years.

They drew first blood. He'll draw last. Thursday morning, Lionsgate released the first trailer for Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth entry in the long-running Rambo series.

First Blood (1982), based on the 1972 novel of the same name by David Morrell, saw Sylvester Stallone's titular veteran, John Rambo, struggling to ground himself in America after returning from the Vietnam War. While the sequels — Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988) and Rambo (2008) — made the character a melancholy action icon who could take down helicopters and wipe out entire armies from a mounted machine gun, his arc began in a more grounded and sad position, one that seemingly condemned the American war machine and the treatment received by veterans upon their return home.

Rambo was never meant to be a hero or lead a franchise. Morrell's novel saw Rambo on a killing spree, one where he directly caused the deaths of not only police and national guardsmen but civilians as well. It's a story frighteningly similar to our modern-day domestic terrorist tragedies in the wake of mental health stigmas and lax gun control.

The novel's John Rambo was killed in the end. The film adaptation shot scenes where Rambo died by suicide, before Stallone pushed for a different ending, one where he lived. The rest is history.

But in the aftermath, Rambo lost his way and got swept back up in the jungle. For many, he became a poster child for American force, an ideal rather than a warning.

Three sequels, an animated series and a video game later, and Rambo became a character we enjoyed with empty-headed satisfaction rather than one that cast a reflection of the systematic injustices inflicted upon the human spirit.

Last Blood, for all of its seeming macho bravado and use of "Old Town Road" remix, looks to finally take John Rambo back to his beginnings and explore his humanity.

Stallone has found great success in revisiting Rocky in Rocky Balboa (2006), Creed (2015), and Creed II (2018). While entirely unlike his counterpart Rambo, by the fourth entry, Rocky too had become far removed from his beginnings. The final Rocky installment and subsequent Creed spinoffs allowed Stallone to find the character's heartbeat again, largely removed from the pop culture status that had nearly swallowed him. No doubt the success of those films and the praise Stallone received for these latter Rocky performances led to this specific reflection on Rambo.

Before Last Blood, ideas for a fifth Rambo movie were tossed around for years, including one titled Rambo: Savage Hunt that would have seen the ex-Special Forces soldier go up against a genetically engineered creature. There were also discussions of a Rambo TV series at Fox that would have focused on Rambo Jr., which, again, is dead.

Thankfully this take, inspired by James Byron Huggins' novel Hunter, has split off to become its own Stallone-led project, separate from Rambo. Last Blood, regardless of how the end result turns out, at least is taking a grounded approach that seems to honor the character and his world.

While the trailer doesn't reveal much about the plot, other than seeing Rambo defend his farm in a way that evokes Unforgiven (1992) and the more recent Logan (2017), the logline describes a plot where Rambo travels to Mexico to save his daughter from a cartel. The decision to have Rambo face off against a Mexican cartel seems questionable given the current disputes of border control and the right-wing villainization of Mexican immigrants.

But Stallone doesn't see the character as a vehicle for political agendas. At the Cannes Film Festival last week Stallone said, "I'm almost like a political atheist. [Rambo] was never supposed to be, by any means, a political statement. It became one. … I don't think I'm smart enough. That's not my strength. I'm not a political animal. I never have been. I don't want to be. I'm just a storyteller." He laughed at the fact that President Reagan, who famously applauded the franchise, had wrongly labeled the character a Republican.

Yet due to Rambo's identity as a veteran it's hard not sweep the character up in a conversation about politics. Morrell's novel certainly feels like a political statement. But perhaps there's something more to Stallone's line of thinking.

As Americans we so often think of soldiers in terms of political parties, a result of our belief or lack thereof in the wars they fight. Maybe Rambo's entire cinematic existence, of being used as an antiwar warning, a jingoist intruder and a commentator on immigration, is all incorrect. Perhaps that's the larger point within the franchise, that he is none of the things we've made him out to be and projected onto him. Rambo is someone we've come to use, perhaps without fully understanding the human being behind the films.

In the trailer, Rambo talks about revealing his secrets, and maybe that's the biggest one of them all: that he's just a man caught in a political infrastructure he wants no part of. We drew first blood. We said who this character was and defined him, perhaps wrongfully, for generations.

Now, with Last Blood, we may finally be able to set the record straight on a character so entrenched in American DNA that we've lost sight of him.

  • Richard Newby
LATEST NEWS