Sylvester Stallone returns as the iconic one-man-army John Rambo - older and somewhat creakier but still the reluctantly brutal killing machine when pushed.
When we last saw him, he effectively made tomato paste out of a brutal Burmese regime and returned to his family ranch in Bowie, Arizona. Eleven years have passed since then and John J. now tends to his horses and his adoptive family, including caretaker Maria (Adriana Barraza, "Babel") and niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). Gabrielle naively ventures to Mexico to find her birth father, resulting in her getting kidnapped by the Martinez cartel led by brothers Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Oscar Jaenada, "The Losers"). This springs Rambo into action once again, whose struggle to cope with his violent past is affecting his health.
The Rambo franchise has been four-for-four for me, with "First Blood" being one of the best Hollywood action films ever made, and its best sequel "Rambo: First Blood Part II" continuing that momentum albeit sacrificing some of the human elements of the first for bigger-scaled action. III and IV are both skilfully-made action films that still give most modern action films that aren't named "The Raid", "John Wick" or "Sicario" a run for their money.
"Last Blood" is intended to be Rambo's final adventure and its another good, rock-solid entry in a storied series. It's also easily the darkest film in the entire franchise, going to thematic areas that wouldn't be out of place in a Sam Peckinpah film. I didn't bring up "Sicario" by accident" - think ol' Sam doing Liam Neeson's "Taken" but with Sly's Rambo instead and you'll get the idea.
Some may be turned off by the grim tone but I appreciate the risks director Adrian Grunberg ("Get the Gringo") took with bringing such a low-key and intentionally dour entry in a major action franchise whose name is recognised globally.
Rest assured, this is still a Rambo film, and all of his rage gets and torment gets built up towards the Grand Guignol carnage (spoiled heavily in all trailers) that ends the film. While it doesn't have as high of a body count compared to the previous three entries (especially the fourth one, Good God was that bloody), nobody who is unfamiliar with Rambo's methods will be surprised at the level of soul-grinding brutality that he dishes out, making John Wick's kills seem like a pleasant day in the park by comparison.
This is Stallone's character arguably moreso than David Morrell's, and he brings the character to the only logical conclusion, considering the previous entries. It's also great to see Rambo display the most emotions he's felt since "First Blood", grounding the character and raising the stakes even more. The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job - though I wish Paz Vega ("Spanglish") was given more to do. Standouts go to Oscar nominee Barraza and Peris-Mencheta for turning what could have been two dimensional roles into something a bit more thoughtful. Just a bit.
With the name "Rambo", one would expect another typical shoot-em-up plot, and this film is just that, but writers Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick and director Grunberg keeps things lean and mean at a brisk 89 minutes with sufficient emotional heft. A minor gripe that I have is that "Rambo IV" has a much better conclusion/retirement for the character than this one - considering the amount of crap he went through in all of the films - but to suggest more from my end would be to spoil the film. All in all it's still a satisfying closing chapter to Rambo's saga, flaws and all.
There's a lot of subtle emotional touches too that make this entry stand out as an entirely different beast from the rest of the franchise, yet its plentiful violence at the film's final third immortalizes what fans pay their tickets for - to see a ruthless killing machine that's the best at knives and guns, as the late Samuel Trautman/Richard Crenna once phrased.