Rambo: Last Blood Review: Sylvester Stallone Has Passed His Expiration Date

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Rambo: Last Blood Review: Sylvester Stallone Has Passed His Expiration Date

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

It is with a heavy heart that I announce John Rambo is dead. This is not a spoiler for the nonsensically titled Rambo: Last Blood, that hits theatres today; it’s merely a declaration by a lifelong fan that the franchise has passed its expiration date. Eleven years after Sylvester Stallone’s last outing as the Elon Musk of innovative murder techniques, he’s back as Rambo in a film that makes you feel as if you’ve gone back in time while you’re watching it. As a self-professed fanboy, I have to admit my high hopes for the film met the same grisly fate as the unnamed henchmen whom Rambo slaughters by the dozen. Again.

At this point in the franchise’s timeline, the only thing that’s likely to kill Rambo is repetition. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and the Rambo franchise has ignored the diminishing returns with every new film, to the point that watching Last Blood feels like being served leftovers from the earlier, better films in the series.

Perhaps the best thing to be said about Last Blood is that it is framed as Rambo’s final outing. With a grand total of zero original ideas in its 104-minute runtime, it’s become glaringly obvious that the well for this character has run dry. The highlights of this film are inferior photocopies of the scenes from its predecessors. 

With a grand total of zero original ideas in its 104-minute runtime, it’s become glaringly obvious that the well for this character has run dry.

Want to see Rambo in a tense cat-and-mouse game with a squad of armed attackers? The entirety of 1982’s First Blood does that a hundred times better. Rambo vs Foreign-looking Bad Guys sounds fun, does it? Then just watch Rambo III and watch him dismantle the Soviet Army – the irony of watching a patriotic American film from 1988 glorify Afghanistan’s mujahideen is an added benefit. Perhaps you just came for the gory, gruesome, up-close-and-personal kills Rambo is known to execute, but then 2008’s John Rambo offers that in droves.

Out of all these tired, recycled tropes, the worst one is the treatment of the women characters. There is very little room for women to begin with in a hyper-masculine fantasy like the Rambo series, but Last Blood fails the Bechdel Test harder than Alia Bhatt failed the Rapidfire Round on Koffee with Karan. And much like in 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, this film also falls into the trap of using female suffering and trauma as mere window-dressing to the male lead’s redemption arc.

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Perhaps you just came for the gory, gruesome, up-close-and-personal kills Rambo is known to execute, but then 2008’s John Rambo offers that in droves.

Lionsgate

Even when Last Blood isn’t cannibalising its own franchise, it still feels derivative. Without giving too much away – the film can be seen as a pale imitation of two other movies. There’s the first half, which plays out like Taken, minus the key ingredient that made Taken work: Liam Neeson. And there’s the second half, which is like a Black Mirror take on Home Alone, where the mischievous eight-year-old has been replaced by a murderous 70-year-old.

If that last sentence was absurd to read, please understand it’s no less absurd than having to suspend your disbelief that 73-year-old Sylvester Stallone is a relentless killing machine for an hour and 40 minutes. In 2019, Rambo’s tough guy aura is as convincing as Stallone’s hair plugs. It’s disappointing how the character has remained locked in stasis and fallen hopelessly out of touch with the times. After all, in the Creed franchise, Stallone has allowed his Rocky Balboa character to grow old gracefully. Meanwhile, Rambo continues to spout cheesy one-liners while committing multiple homicides and hang around way too many explosions for a senior citizen. Maybe it’s time he considered retirement.

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