I’ve never seen a Rambo movie. The excessive violence in the franchise, after the first film, never appealed to me, and I’ve never thought Sylvester Stallone was one of America’s greatest actors. In fact, I’ve skipped most of his movies. I did that because he’s usually mumbling and stumbling through them like a less intelligent Frankenstein’s monster.
That said, I think he performs well in some of the “Rocky” films. However, those films aren’t necessarily successful because of Stallone alone. They are successful because he had directors who knew how to help him find his character and because Stallone found Rocky Balboa’s story more relatable.
With Stallone’s original “Rocky” script, director John G. Avildsen was able to mold a performance that showcased both Stallone’s underdog spirit and awkward charm. Much later, with “Creed,” director Ryan Coogler formed Stallone into a mentor for the descendant of Rocky’s friend, Apollo Creed. With Coogler’s help, Stallone was able to give a career-best performance in “Creed.”
Adrian Grunberg, director of “Rambo: Last Blood,” doesn’t know how to direct performances like Coogler and Avildsen. In “Last Blood,” Stallone is directed to speak either with no inflection in his voice or with a raw toughness of a man ready to rip another man’s heart out. The contrast between these two tones is comical.
Neither Stallone nor the director possess nuance. The filmmaking is cliché and uninteresting. Hand-to-hand combat scenes are confusing compositions of distracting close-up shots. Close-ups are also used too much in dialogue scenes because the director hopes to capture emotions in the actors’ faces that their voices never release.
Grunberg’s job is made more difficult though because Matthew Cirulnick and Stallone’s script for “Rambo: Last Blood” is bare bones. Stallone speaks in either droning monologues or in indecipherable grunted lines that sound like they were written on set. The plot too sounds haphazardly written after a binge-watch of “The Searchers,” “Logan” and “Taken.”
In the film, John Rambo’s niece visits her biological father hoping to initiate a new start to their relationship. That goes horribly, and the father slams the door in her face. I’ve seen deadbeat dads on screen before, but this guy is ridiculous. She later finds solace in a bar but is too trusting of the patrons. She is drugged, kidnapped and sex trafficked. I think. Honestly, this film was incredibly forgettable.
When Rambo discovers this, he characteristically goes off the handle and kills anyone who stands in his way. This reaction doesn’t particularly bother me. I was more bothered by how Rambo’s excessive violence was framed and shot in the film. I’m not opposed to violence, but please, if you’re going to subject me to an onslaught of bloody deaths, be creative. Scene after scene was clunky and led to an anti-climactic ending.
At the end of the film, Rambo has lured the sex traffickers to his home in Arizona. Then he proceeds to subject them to “Saw” style horror traps with a dash of “Home Alone” silliness. This concept was used effectively in the film “Skyfall” by director Sam Mendes, but Mendes is a more gifted filmmaker than Grunberg. Mendes would selectively choose what he wants to show and what he wants to keep mysterious. Grunberg is a show-off with no subtlety. He shows you men impaled by booby traps, shot in the head, or slashed up by Rambo, but it all feels so repetitive. There’s a guy, now he’s dead, Rambo makes sure he’s dead by shooting or stabbing him. Rinse, wash, repeat.
By the end, Rambo is so fed up with these monstrous men that he rips out one of their hearts. I suppose this is the symbolic end to his internal and external struggle, but you’ve got to wonder if this cartel might have friends who will retaliate and kill this old man. The film concludes with what was intended to be a stirring monologue from Stallone as he sits on his porch finally at peace, but it all rings hollow.