Sunday, October 6, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Rambo: Last Blood

Rambo: Last Blood was written by Matthew Cirulnick and Sylvester Stallone (with "story credit" by Dan Gordon). It was directed by Adrian Grunberg.

Cirulnick previously wrote Paid In Full (?) and some minor TV work and that's about it.

Stallone should need no introduction, as he's one of the most famous celebs in the world, as well as a prolific actor, writer, producer and director. On the writing side, he previously penned the Rocky movies (Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V and Rocky Balboa), F.I.S.T., Paradise Alley, Stayin' Alive (!), Rhinestone (!!), Cobra, Over The Top, Cliffhanger, Driven, Homefront, The Expendables 1, 2 and 3, Creed and Creed II.

Of course he also wrote First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III and Rambo.

Grunberg has had a long and checkered career, as he previously wrote Train Ride To Hollywood, Tank, Gotcha!, Passenger 57, Taking The Heat, Surf Ninjas (!), Wyatt Earp, Murder In The First, The Assignment, The Hurricane, The Celestine Prophecy (!!), A Very Mary Christmas and Let There Be Light. Uh-oh! Sounds like somebody got born again near the end of their career!

Cirulnick has previously worked as a second unit or assistant director on several dozen films, which I won't list here. His sole solo directorial effort was Get The Gringo.

Many consider the character of Rambo to be a dinosaur— a relic of a bygone era that has no place in our current society. One could say the same thing about this movie. It feels like a throwback to old school action films of the 1980s. It's incredibly violent, overly simplistic, with absolutely no surprises.

And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that! Sometimes you just want to turn off your brain and watch a simple story in which a ripped guy in a headband singlehandedly obliterates and entire army.

Believe it or not, there are some critics out there condemning this film for its excessive amount of violence? Seriously? Have these people ever seen an action movie before? That's kind of the point. Over-the-top, glorious violence, and lots of it.

That said, the third act of Rambo: Last Blood does take a bit of a dark turn, as it seemingly turns into one of the Saw movies. In fact this one makes First Blood,the original film, look positively quaint!

One person who most definitely doesn't like the movie is David Morrell, who authored First Blood— the movie that inspired the original film. According to him, Last Blood is "a mess," and he said he was embarrassed to have his name associated with it. 

Said Morrell, "Rambo could be called John Smith, and the film wouldn't change." I felt degraded and dehumanized after I left the theater. Instead of being soulful, this new movie lacks one. I felt I was less a human being for having seen it, and today that's an unfortunate message."

Yikes! Don't pull any punches, John. Tell us how you reeeeeally feel.

I was thinking about the Rambo franchise as a whole, and it struck me that it's very similar to the Rocky series. The original Rocky won a goddamned Best Picture Oscar, for poop's sake! Unfortunately every subsequent installment was a little worse than the one before, culminating in the disappointing nadir that was Rocky V. Sixteen years later, Stallone returned to the series with Rocky Balboa, a return to form that was nearly as good as the original.

The Rambo series follows that exact same path. First Blood wasn't an Oscar winner by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a solid action film that actually had a powerful message about war and its aftereffects. Sadly, each sequel was more outrageous and over the top than the one before it, as Rambo III was practically a parody of the original. Twenty years later, Stallone resurrected the character in 2008's Rambo, which was hailed as a return to form and a worthy successor to the original.

Annnnnnd then Stallone squandered all that goodwill with this unnecessary and poorly-received followup. Some people just don't know when to quit.

Actually, maybe he does. In December 2018, Stallone stated that Last Blood would be the final Rambo film, as the character would finally find the peace he's been seeking all his life. However, during the 2019 Cannes Festival, he said he'd be up for another if this new film was a box office hit.

So far Rambo: Last Blood has grossed $61 million worldwide against its modest $50 million budget. Eh, that ain't good, as it'll need to make $100 million just to break even. Looks like Rambo rode off into the sunset for real!


The "Plot:"
It's been eleven years since the events of Rambo. John Rambo now lives on his family farm in Arizona, along with Maria Beltran a middle-aged Hispanic woman who may be his friend, casual acquaintance, housekeeper or even secret lover. It's never made clear just what their relationship is. Maria's granddaughter Gabriela also lives with them, and Rambo's all but adopted her as his niece.

Rambo's seemingly found the peace he's sought for his whole life, as he spends his days with his makeshift family, raises and trains horses and digs an elaborate series of Vietnam War-like tunnels under the farm. Wait, what? Apparently the tunnels are some form of warped therapy for him.

Gabriela's about to go off to college and has her whole life ahead of her, so of course she's a goner. She gets a message from her old friend Giselle, who's spotted Gabriela's deadbeat dad Miguel in Mexico. She asks Rambo if she can go to Mexico by herself (!) to "get some answers" from her dad. Rambo and Maria both tell her that Miguel is bad news, and she's better off without him. Rambo makes her promise not to go.

Cut to Gabriela immediately throwing a bag in her car and heading for Mexico, with precise comedy timing.

Gabriela meets up with Giselle in Mexico, and the two drive to Miguel's apartment. Gabriela nervously knocks on the door and meets her real father at last. Unfortunately Rambo & Maria were right about Miguel, as he tells her he doesn't want anything to do with her and to piss off.

Giselle takes Gabriel to a bar to help her "get her head straight." Because Lord knows, any time I need to reflect on a traumatic life event, I go to a crowded public space filled with flashing lights and deafening techno music. Within ten seconds she's approached by a skeevy guy who deflects her objections, then drugs and abducts her.

Maria gets a call from Gizelle, informing her that Gabriela's disappeared. Rambo realizes she went to Mexico against his wishes, and heads for the border.

We then see Gabriela's being held prisoner in a Mexican brothel, along with several dozen other girls. A man (Victor Martinez, although we're not supposed to know that yet) enters and tells the girls that if any of them even think about trying to escape, he'll personally shoot them in the head.

Rambo arrives in Meh-hee-co, where he finds Giselle and forces her to take him to the club. She reluctantly points out El Flaco, the man who abducted Gabriela. Rambo tells her to get lost and follows the man out of the club. A mysterious woman watches Rambo with interest.

Outside the club, Rambo beats the every loving crap out of El Flaco until he confesses Gabriella's being held in a brothel owned by Hugo and Victor Martinez, members of a powerful Mexican drug cartel. Rambo stupidly, er, I mean brazenly barges into the Martinez compound and is immediately surrounded by several hundred cartel goons.

Rambo demands the brothers hand over Gabriela. They laugh, and Hugo says that thanks to Rambo's interference, he'll be sure to give her extra "attention." Victor then carves a large "V" in the side of Rambo's face, and the goons beat him to within an inch of his life and leave him for dead.

The brothers then enter their brothel, and Hugo tells Victor to find Gabriela and mark her. He carves his initial into her face before injecting her with heroin or something equally vile.

Meanwhile the Mystery Woman, who's been tailing Rambo for some reason, scoops him up, takes him to her place and nurses him back to health. When he wakes four days later, she tells him her name is Carmen Delgado. She's an independent journalist who's been investigating the Martinez Brothers after they kidnapped and murdered her sister. She tells Rambo where to find the Martinez's brothel.

Rambo then raids the brothel, easily killing all the men inside. He tells the captive girls to leave, but they refuse, as they're terrified of what the Martinezes will do to them if they flee. He finds an injured and drugged Gabriela in one of the rooms and rescues her.

On the way back to Arizona, Rambo tells Gabriela how she has a bright and shining future ahead of her (uh-oh). He says he's glad she came into his life ten years ago, and that she's given him hope and changed his miserable life for the better. Right on cue, Gabriela dies of a drug overdose. He returns to his ranch, where he buries her body. He then sends Maria away and returns to Mexico.

Rambo locates Carmen, and asks her help in locating Victor. She's reluctant at first, saying killing him won't change anything. Eventually she relents and tells him. Rambo bursts into Victor's mansion, wiping out all his armed guards. He then approaches Victor's bedroom, and hears him in the shower.

Some time later Hugo discovers the dead bodies lying all over Victor's house, along with his decapitated body stretched out on the bed. Cut to Rambo driving back to Arizona, as he nonchalantly flings Victor's head out of his truck.

We then get an old fashioned 1980s montage, as Rambo rigs his ranch— and the tunnels beneath— with dozens of lethal Home Alone-style traps. He then sits and waits for the sh*tstorm he knows is coming.

Right on schedule, Hugo leads a veritable army of his goons to Rambo's ranch. They trigger a massive firebomb trap, and Rambo opens fire on them before heading into his tunnels. The goons follow him underground, where they're all gruesomely killed in an awesome orgy of blood and gore. Hey, it's what the audience came to see, right?

Rambo's shot a couple times, but manages to shrug off his injuries. He brutally kills several hundred men, leaving Hugo for last. He shoots an arrow into each of his limbs, pinning him against the barn wall. Rambo then slices Hugo open, reaches into his chest, pulls out his beating heart and shows it to him before he dies. Cliched, but effective.

Rambo staggers to his front porch, where he rests in a rocking chair and seemingly dies. But not so fast! During a montage of scenes from past Rambo films, we see him saddle up his horse and ride off into the sunset.

• There's really not a lot to say about this film, so this'll be short. It's a Rambo movie. That's pretty much all there is to know about it.

• As the movie opens, Rambo's chilling on his family farm with his friend Maria and her granddaughter Gabriela. I had absolutely zero memory of either of these two characters. Admittedly it's been eleven years since I saw Rambo, so I thought maybe they were introduced there and I just forgot about them.

Nope! Rambo took place primarily in the jungles of Burma. Maria and Gabriela are brand new characters who were retconned into Rambo's life in between movies!

Last Blood never really elaborates on the relationship between Rambo and Maria either. Is she his lover? Housekeeper? Casual acquaintance? Apparently it's none of our business, as the movie never specifies.

• Most of the first act revolves around Gabriela and her ill-advised trek to Mexico. I get it— 
we've never seen her before, so the movie needed to firmly establish her character to make us care about her when she's killed off. 

That said, it was an odd way to begin a Rambo movie— by not having Rambo in it.

• Apparently over the past eleven years, Rambo's dug an extensive series of maze-like tunnels under his family farm— much like the ones he and his fellow soldiers encountered during the Vietnam War. Several things here.

First of all, why? Why the hell would anyone willingly spend years on a project that reminds them of the worst period of their life? At one point Gabriela comments that Rambo's crazy for building all these tunnels. Her comment's meant as a joke, but it's actually 100% true. This is not the action of a sane man who's finally "at peace" with the world. 

Secondly, how the holy frak did an elderly man like Rambo dig all these elaborate tunnels by himself?
Some of the tunnels appear to have curved walls, as if they're made from large sewer pipe. I could maybe see him digging a trench, lowering the pipe into it and covering it back up with dirt.

The rest of the tunnels are squared off though, supported by periodic wooden braces— much like mine tunnels. The only way he could have made those is by plain old digging underground.

There's probably a good half mile of interconnected tunnels under his farm. How'd he haul all that dirt out by himself? Where's the corresponding mountain of Earth he displaced? Who thought this cockamamie idea was the least bit feasible?

• When Rambo brings Gabriela back from Mexico, he tells her how she's changed his life for the better. The minute he said this, I knew she was a goner. And when he told her she had to hold on because she had her whole life ahead of her I sat in the theater thinking, "No, Rambo! Stop! Don't say that!"

Sure enough, with precise comedic timing, she keels over and dies. 

• Last Blood is the first film in the franchise in which Colonel Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) doesn't appear. That's probably because he died back in 2003. 

So how'd he appear in a dream sequence in Rambo, if it came out five years after his death? Why, through the magic of stock footage, of course!

• All of the Rambo films have been well under two hours, but Last Blood is the shortest yet. It clocks in at a very brisk 89 minutes.

Supposedly it was originally much longer, as different cuts were test screened months before release. The filmmakers settled on a "final" cut just weeks before the premiere. Then at the very last minute, they cut the film even more, to just below 90 minutes. The trailers feature many scenes not in the final version of the movie.

Actually I'm OK with its brevity. It starts out kind of slow, but once that third act begins it gets right to the action— which is what everyone came to see!

• Of course SJWs are condemning the film for depicting a Mexico that's a cesspool of violence and sex trafficking, ruled by deadly drug cartels. So... it's a documentary then, right?

I'm joking, I'm joking! You remember jokes, right? They're something we used to have before the Dark Times. Before the Empire.

Personally I don't see a problem with the film. Everything in the movie is so over the top that it's almost like a live-action cartoon. And that includes the portrayal of the drug cartel.

• Speaking of cartoons... did you know there was a short lived Rambo animated series back in the 1980s? There was a Robocop one as well a couple years later. Cartoons based on R-rated theatrical film. The 1980s were a magical time to be alive.

• Regular readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld know I'm a harsh critic of modern movie poster design, which is nearly always lazy and unappealing. That includes the poster at the top of the page. I'm not a fan of it's harsh solarized look, complete with what appears to be silver skin on Stallone.

That said, the black & white poster is a freakin' masterpiece compared to this blurry, amateurish monstrosity! I'm still not a hundred percent convinced that this isn't an example of fan art.

• After Gabriela dies, Rambo returns to Mexico, where he kills Victor by beheading him. A bit later we see him driving down a highway, as he tosses Victor's head out the window of his truck. 

So apparently Rambo crossed the border from Mexico into America— with a goddamed severed head under the seat of his truck. Yikes! Maybe we DO need better security along the Mexican border!

• Hugo and his army of goons invade Rambo's farm and begin waging war on him. He lures them into his tunnels, where he easily kills hundreds of cartel soldiers. Why the hell didn't Hugo order his men to retreat? Rambo obviously has the upper hand in these intricate tunnels, as they're completely unfamiliar to Hugo's forces. So why keep charging deeper and deeper into certain death?

Rambo: Last Blood is an incredibly simple revenge tale with few if any surprises, and a throwback to 1980s action films. It's also incredibly violent, but so over-the-top it almost becomes cartoonish. Fans of the franchise will likely enjoy it, but the general public will find it obsolete and passe. I give it a B-.

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