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Sylvester Stallone’s return as the iconic character Rocky Balboa in 2015’s Creed saw him receive praise for an understated, sensitive performance that revitalized and added to the character’s long history. Could the same be true of Rambo: Last Blood, Adrian Grunberg’s addition to the long-running franchise that reunites Stallone with his war veteran hero John Rambo? Judging by the response to the movie from critics, the answer is an unmistakable no.
To be fair, the problem isn’t with Stallone’s performance, which is commented upon favorably in a handful of reviews. Instead, what’s wrong with the pic seems to be… everything else about it.
As The Hollywood Reporter‘s own Frank Scheck notes, “[T]he screenplay, co-written by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick, feels utterly tossed-off and generic, more resembling the pilot for a Rambo television series than a proper sendoff. Dirty Harry got a more dignified farewell in The Dead Pool, and that movie featured a chase involving a toy car.”
But perhaps that isn’t an appropriately blunt summary of how disappointing the pic was to most critics. For that, we should turn to Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, who starts his review by saying, “This massively enlarged prostate of a film can only make you wince with its badly acted geronto-ultraviolence, its Trumpian fantasies of Mexican rapists and hilariously insecure U.S. border, and its crass enthusiasm for rape-revenge attacks undertaken by a still-got-it senior dude, 73 years young, on behalf of a sweet teenager.”
Exactly how could it be that bad? New York Times critic Glenn Kenny offers a hint. “Mexico is a North American country of over 700,000 square miles, comprising 31 states. At least that’s the case in our reality,” he writes. “In the reality of Rambo: Last Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone as the titular vengeful killing machine, Mexico is a very, very bad neighborhood that’s about a 40-minute drive from the peaceful Arizona ranch where our hero will, if the title of this movie is to be trusted, make his final stand.”
But obviously, there are greater flaws than just simple mistakes of geography. Let’s turn to IndieWire’s Eric Kohn for a summary, shall we?
“Transplanting the action to Arizona provides the natural setting for a border drama that plays into Trump-era fear-mongering, right down to its ominous shot of a border wall, as Rambo heads south in search of justice,” Kohn points out. “Fortunately, by propaganda standards, it’s weak sauce, as the movie unfurls with bland, tiresome developments until the closing minutes. Constructed with a lo-fi telenovela aesthetic and overwhelmed by a throbbing paint-by-numbers score, Last Blood feels like a fan tribute that just so happens to star the real McCoy.”
Perhaps the most unfortunate flaw of the entire effort may be that the movie doesn’t even succeed on its own terms, as Empire’s Ian Freer points out.
“Rambo: Last Blood is riddled with narrative flab, risible speechifying, wild plot conveniences (Paz Vega plays a journalist whose One Job is to keep Rambo on the right track with the investigation), routine action filmmaking (everything is hammered home by Brian Tyler’s wall-to-wall score) and a caricatured, xenophobic attitude to Mexicans (it feels like a film designed for the Trump heartland),” Freer writes. “There’s throwback fun to be had as Rambo lures the goons back to his booby-trapped farmhouse coming on like an 18-certificate [R-rated] Home Alone, but by this time you barely care.”
If all of this feels like an especially unfortunate end of the road for John Rambo, a character whose first appearance was in a story that offered surprising sensitivity towards the topic of how war impacts those who fight, then… well, it is, as Witney Seibold from IGN makes clear: “If you’ve come for thoughtfulness, tragedy, character, wit, and a political statement on the effects of war — in short, if you’ve come for anything that was in the original First Blood — then perhaps you’d find solace in a different theater. Or just at home, a safe distance away from Last Blood.”
Rambo: Last Blood opens Friday.
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