Film Review: Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Also known as: Rambo V (alternative title)
Release Date: September 18th, 2019 (Indonesia)
Directed by: Adrian Grunberg
Written by: Matthew Cirulnick, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim, Joaquin Cosio, Oscar Jaenada

Lionsgate, Millennium Films, Campbell Grobman Films, Balboa Productions, 89 Minutes, 101 Minutes (international cut)

Review:

“I’m gonna tear you apart.” – John Rambo

I may be four months late to the party but I finally got around to seeing Rambo V or, as it is officially called, Rambo: Last Blood.

Getting straight to the heart of it, this is the worst Rambo film. That doesn’t mean it is bad, though, as I still really enjoyed it and it’s better than most other modern action films.

The last fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie are incredible for fans of hardcore ’80s style action. It’s an all out war between Rambo and piece of shit sex traffickers on Rambo’s farm.

The first two acts of the film are a bit weak, however. They don’t feature that much action, really, except for a few scenes of Rambo just beating up some thugs. This picture certainly doesn’t have the level of action as 2008’s, far superior, Rambo.

I think part of the problem is that this movie is too short. It’s less than 90 minutes and if you lob the credits off the film, it’s only about 80 minutes. Now there is a longer international cut that comes in at 101 minutes. I’d assume that this is a better cut of the film and maybe the US version had its violence and action toned down due to the overly bitchified political and social climate of 2019. I mean, this is a movie about a white dude killing off a fuck ton of Mexicans. It doesn’t matter that these people are the scumfucks of the Earth, the Hollywood elites would rather the races be reversed in movies like this now.

That being said, the villains in this are so evil that I don’t feel like the end was satisfying enough. After what these men did to Rambo’s surrogate daughter, his friend’s sister and well, to Rambo himself, I was really hoping for levels of violence and gore on par with the 2008 film.

The big finale is still great, as Rambo lures the scumfucks into his underground maze where he picks them off one-by-one like a silent predator. The murder of the gang leader at the very end is pretty intense and violent but I feel like that piece of shit got off too easily. But maybe this is a sign that Rambo is older and he just wants these men dead, as opposed to playing with them like a cat slowly torturing a mouse.

Like other Rambo movies, this one comes with a message. This time, the film’s message is about how fucked up the cartels are in Mexico between sex trafficking, kidnapping, drugs, etc.

I guess one big difference between this and the 2008 chapter, is that I didn’t leave this one wanting more. The ending is sort of ambiguous, as Rambo may or may not bleed out and die. I think it was left that way to keep the door open for Rambo VI. I don’t think it’s necessary though and now, I don’t think that this movie was necessary either.

The fourth film had a pretty perfect ending and went out on a really high note. This fifth film, while mostly okay, felt like that family member that stuck around a day or two too long after the rest of the family left following the holidays.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Rambo (2008)

Also known as: Rambo IV (unofficial title), Rambo IV: End of Peace, Rambo IV: In the Serpent’s Eye, Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra, Rambo: To Hell and Back, John Rambo, Rambo: First Blood Part IV (working titles)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2008 (Kuwait)
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Art Monterastelli, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Tim Kang, Rey Gellegos, Jake La Botz, Maung Maung Khin, Ken Howard

Lionsgate, The Weinstein Company, Millennium Films, 92 Minutes, 99 Minutes (extended), 80 Minutes (heavily cut)

Review:

“You know what you are… what you’re made of. War is in your blood. Don’t fight it. You didn’t kill for your country. You killed for yourself. God’s never gonna make that go away. When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing.” – John Rambo

This was a film that I never knew I wanted until I saw the trailer for it back in 2007. But after the success of Stallone’s return as Rocky Balboa in Rocky Balboa, a decades late Rambo sequel felt like a natural follow up, creatively speaking.

I assumed the Rambo character, like Rocky, was long gone. I figured that someone would eventually just do a shitty remake. But no, we got this, a legit sequel and one of the most intense action films of its decade.

Rambo is super violent, supremely extreme and it doesn’t just feel like a throwback to ’80s action movies, it feels like a fucking throwback to ’70s gore porn exploitation! I’m not even sure what Stallone or the other executives were thinking but this movie was like a big “fuck you” to the Hollywood status quo, who ruined action and horror by forcing every genre filmmaker to keep their art neutered for PG-13 audiences.

This is the best Rambo movie since the original: First Blood. It, like the other films, has a message and a point to it, as it draws attention to just how shitty the decades long genocide was in Burma. It’s unapologetic in how it displays the sadistic nature of the fascist dictatorship and its treatment of its citizens. Since the movie, things have improved in Burma (actually officially called Myanmar).

In fact, the film was banned there by the government. However, it was eventually disturbed via bootlegs by the resistance, hoping to use it as anti-military propaganda. It also went on to inspire the people in the country, who adopted some of the film’s most notable lines in their battle cries. Learning of all this, Stallone said, “That, to me, is one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in film.”

I point that out because some people have wondered as to whether or not things in Burma were as bad as the movie portrayed. Also, it shows that Hollywood can make a difference and inspire change when it addresses real world problems and doesn’t get fixated on faux bourgeois identity politics or being overly fixated on trashing the other end of the political spectrum most of them subscribe to.

The film’s story is pretty simple: a group of missionaries charter Rambo’s boat in Thailand. They want to go up the river into Burma to deliver aid to the people there. Rambo reluctantly agrees. The missionaries eventually get captured and Rambo goes back to Burma with a group of mercenaries to bring war to some of the worst humans on the planet.

If you thought that previous Rambo films were too violent, then you might want to skip this film. This is insanely violent but when the villains are as evil as they are in this movie, it feels gratifying to see them literally blasted to bloody chunks.

Also, Stallone feels completely at home in the John Rambo character; like no time has passed and he’s been living in Rambo’s head for twenty years, waiting to get out. For die hard fans of the film series, this more than makes up for a twenty year gap between the third film and this one.

It’s a short, quick and badass motion picture. It’s also one of the best that Stallone, himself, has directed.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Rambo III (1988)

Also known as: Rambo: First Blood Part III (Malaysia)
Release Date: May 25th, 1988
Directed by: Peter MacDonald
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Sheldon Lettich
Based on: character by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith, Marc de Jonge

Carolco Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes, 87 Minutes (heavily cut VHS version)

Review:

“Yeah, well, there won’t be a victory! Every day, your war machines lose ground to a bunch of poorly-armed, poorly-equipped freedom fighters! The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you’d studied your history, you’d know that these people have never given up to anyone. They’d rather die, than be slaves to an invading army. You can’t defeat a people like that. We tried! We already had our Vietnam! Now you’re gonna have yours!” – Colonel Trautman

While I will love any Rambo movie by default, there are some that aren’t as good as others. From memory, this one was my least favorite but I also hadn’t seen it in about fifteen years. Now that I’ve seen it again, it is pretty damn awesome even if it is the worst of the original trilogy of films. But out of the three, someone had to lose.

That being said, it is a damn solid ’80s action movie that is unapologetic, out to splatter the balls of lesser men and just a great conclusion to the Rambo story arc. Well, that is until we were allowed to check in on him twenty years later with 2008’s Rambo, a film no one ever really anticipated, as Hollywood wasn’t resurrecting everything under the sun by that point.

Anyway, this movie shows us that John Rambo has been living in Thailand where he is a pit fighter that whips ass for money. Granted, he gives the money to the nice monks that let him live in their monastery, where he also does some handyman work. Colonel Trautman then shows up with a new mission that will help free a region of Afghanistan from a Soviet tyrant who is pretty damn sadistic.

After September 11th, 2001, this plot was looked at as somewhat controversial, as Rambo aided the mujahideen, a group that was associated with Osama bin Laden in the real world. The ending of the film even had a blurb of text that said the film was dedicated to “…the brave mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan.” Since 2001, the film has been altered to say that it’s dedicated to the “…gallant people of Afghanistan.”

Apart from that issue, which really isn’t an issue when you consider the history of the United States, the Soviet Union and the politics of the Soviet-Afghan War, this is one badass movie. In fact, once Rambo gets going in this flick, he is a killing machine and the action only stops long enough to give you a breather a few times.

My only real gripe about the film is that it takes too long to really get to the good stuff. There is a great action sequence early on, which sees the Soviets in a Hind-D helicopter attack an Afghan buzkashi match but after that, there is a lot of talk, planning and scenes of Trautman (and later Rambo) in Soviet custody. The film isn’t overly slow in the first two acts but they probably could’ve lobbed off ten or fifteen minutes and made it flow at a better pace.

Out of the original three films, however, this has, hands down, the best climax. We get to see Rambo, driving a tank, play a game of chicken with the Soviet Hind-D helicopter. It’s fucking glorious and is one of the most masculine moments in the history of cinema. While the final sequence here doesn’t beat out the final sequence of Death Wish 3, it has made me develop a theory that the big finale of the third film in action franchises will always be tremendous. Ignore Lethal Weapon 3, though, otherwise it destroys my theory like a balsa wood house in a fire… like the one in the final fight in Lethal Weapon 3.

Rambo III is a spectacular action flick, a product of its time (a great time, mind you) and it stars one of the best actors of the action genre, in his prime, playing his second greatest character. Seriously, what’s not to love, here?

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Also known as: Rambo II (unofficial title), Rambo (shortened title)
Release Date: May 22nd, 1985
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron, Kevin Jarre
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove, George Cheung, Voyo Goric

Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Anabasis N.V., TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Pressure? Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I’ve ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he’ll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing: what you choose to call hell, he calls home.” – Trautman

The first Rambo movie, First Blood, is and will always be the best of the Rambo films. Frankly, it’s really hard to top but this one does comes pretty close while being a very different kind of movie.

At their core, both films are action flicks with a one man army fighting for survival against man, the wild and every other dangerous thing that arises.

However, the first picture was more about making a statement regarding the treatment of Vietnam veterans returning from war to a home that didn’t want them while this film was much more about balls out action and fun.

That’s not to say that this chapter in the franchise doesn’t have a message, it does. It sees John Rambo return to Vietnam in an effort to rescue some of the P.O.W.s that were left behind by their own government. The film critiques the U.S. government’s handling of the P.O.W. situation and shows that the government wasn’t actually too keen on getting them out. Rambo is essentially set up to fail but he blasts his way through the dangerous jungle, falls in love, loses love, rescues some soldiers, kills several evil men and then exposes his own government for spitting in the faces of the men that lost their lives and sanity for a government that abandoned them.

There are actually a lot of similarities between this movie and Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action film series. As much as I love those movies, this just feels like a better, more polished version of what those movies were. That being said, Missing In Action was actually rushed out and released in 1984 to avoid a lawsuit, as it was based off of a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for this film.

Out of all the Rambo films, this one features my favorite cast. Alongside Stallone, Crenna gets a bigger role here and then you’ve got the great Martin Kove, who I wish had a bit more screen time, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff and Julia Nickson, who I will always remember most for her part in this film and how it inspired and gave hope to John Rambo that there could be life beyond war. Additionally, Voyo Goric is in this and while his name might not be known to most people, he was in several action flicks of the time and always played a good, intimidating and convincing heavy.

As an adult, I know and recognize that First Blood is better. However, as a kid, this was my Rambo film, as it was so over the top and action heavy that it made my young mind explode with excitement and wonder. It felt like a G.I. Joe character come to life and it was just violent and cool in a way that makes it a near perfect ’80s action picture. It feels like a Cannon Films movie with a bigger budget and a bigger star. Granted, it could’ve used a few ninjas.

One thing that makes this picture work so well is the pacing. For example, I love Rambo III but it isn’t as good as this one because it has a slow pace that hinders it. I’ll talk about that more when I review it. The pacing here though is perfect, the film keeps moving forward, a lot happens but you don’t get stuck in a spot of fixated on some plot point. Rambo blasts or punches something just about every five minutes.

Some may accuse this of being a mindless action movie, it’s not. It has a message and a point to make but it also doesn’t let that message get in the way of what’s most important: action, muscles, bullets, explosions and heavy machinery.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: First Blood (1982)

Also known as: Rambo (Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Venezuela), Rambo: First Blood (informal title)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Written by: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: First Blood by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, David Caruso

Anabasis N.V., Elcajo Productions, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I could have killed’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!” – Rambo

I wanted to see Rambo: Last Blood in the theater. But when it came out, I had a lot going on and next thing I knew, it was out of my local cinema. It’s out digitally now but before finally watching it, I thought I’d start way back at the beginning and work my way through the franchise, as I haven’t watched any of these in at least a decade.

First Blood is the best film, at least from my memory. But my opinion doesn’t really seem to be that different from the general consensus. And after revisiting it, I think the other ones have their work cut out for them, as this still holds up and hits the same notes it did when I first saw it, a few decades ago.

This is the most serious and dramatic of the films and Stallone is pretty damn stellar in this. He carries the entire film on his back and shows why he was one of the biggest action movie stars of all-time. People will always debate who was better between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger but this film, like the original Rocky, shows that Stallone was the better actor.

The story here is simple, Rambo is a Vietnam veteran that just happens to be traveling on foot through a small town. He draws the attention of a bigoted sheriff that thinks it’s wise to fuck with Rambo. Both men push each other back a little bit and it escalates into the police going on a manhunt for a legitimately deadly soldier that knows how to use his wild environment to his extreme advantage.

What sets this film apart from the other Rambo movies is that this one has a clear message that really resonated at the time that it was released. It’s a straight up action movie, for sure, but beyond that, it examines the treatment of Vietnam veterans by their own country once they got home from the hell that was the Vietnam War.

The film conveys its message quite well and Stallone’s final moments in this film really show the audience the horrors and the effects of war on those who are closest to it. You sympathize with Rambo, you feel what he’s feeling in your gut and its hard not to truly feel his emotion and pain as he breaks down in the arms of his former commander.

In regards to the bulk of the film, which is action, everything is wonderfully shot and executed. I love the look of this picture, the choice of using the Pacific Northwest and how it becomes Rambo’s real weapon against a corrupt, power mad sheriff and his police force.

I also like the final act of the film which brings Rambo back into town for a showdown with the sheriff. Speaking of which, Brian Dennehy was pretty good as the slimeball sheriff and this is the role that helped to give him a pretty solid and respectable career.

One thing that really takes this movie to the next level is the Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s pretty perfect, especially in how it gives extra energy to the spectacle of the action heavy sequences.

First Blood is still a damn good motion picture to watch and it carries a message that is still relevant while not being too heavy handed, allowing the movie to still entertain you. Modern Hollywood could learn a lot from First Blood in that it doesn’t sacrifice story and character to force feed its audience an agenda. It presents its message and allows you to digest it, think on it and then do what you will with it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo films, as well as Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action movies.