It’s been almost 11 years since John Rambo left the jungles of Thailand and went home to his daddies horse ranch in Arizona, if you’ve been following the franchise saga. But, since this is supposed to be the final movie, you KNOW that it’s gonna be filled with blood, guts, and a whole lotta mayhem. Let’s dig in, shall we?
John Rambo (Sly Stallone) has finally found peace on this huge ranch with his housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza), and raising college-age Gabriella (Yvette Monreal) like a surrogate father, not to mention building a whole bunch of inter-connecting tunnels underneath the farm because… a guy’s gotta have a hobby, right? Anyway, stubborn Gabriella wants to visit her estranged daddy in Mexico against the expressed wishes of Carmen & Rambo, but goes despite their warnings. Once there, she runs afoul of her former BFF (Fenessa Pineda) and, quicker than you can say, “Taken”, she’s snatched up by local sex slave traffickers.
John, who as we all know has a particular set of skills, goes to rescue her, but things go south as he gets his ass handed to him by the vicious Martinez brothers, Hugo & Victor (Oscar Jaenada & Sergio Peris-Mencheta), heads of the slave cartel. Thankfully, he’s rescued by Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega), an intrepid journalist, and nursed back to health. But John isn’t going to stop! He makes a bold move to save Gabriella and then leaves, oh, let’s say a ‘calling card’ for Hugo to come find him in Arizona. Iccck!!
In a third act that resembles a bloody Home Alone stand-off, it’s Rambo vs Hugo and his small army of unbelievably stupid goons who go after the enraged vet on his totally booby trapped ranch. Now, if YOU were a bad guy and you KNEW the farm was a total death trap, wouldn’t you leave? Of course you would! But NO! These bozo’s run head-long into some of the most gruesome and ghastly life-taking devices ever! How gruesome? Remember the blood-bath of 2008’s Rambo? Well, if that was the main entree, THIS would be the dessert! It’s almost like watching something from a Blumhouse production horror film.
Stallone and Matt Cirulnick (Paid In Full) wrote this predictable Taken, Death Wish, Peppermint, and other such tropes rip-off. Simple, by-the-numbers, and dumbed-down, Stallone says this is John Rambo’s swan song and, as it looks, it just may be. The story and dialogue aren’t anything special, just a way to get from A to B to C until the climatic end where Johnny can take out the bad guys one by one in the most colorful and violent ways possible. Ya gotta give the writers credit for that; they did come up with some rather creative ways to off someone.
And speaking of blood, guts, and gore, nobody know his carnage like director Adrian Grunberg. He’s made some truly jaw-dropping films (Apocalypto, Edge of Darkness) with equally stomach-churning scenes. This movie, as simplistic as it is, looks more like a student film for Adrian, rather than the big-budget movies he’s done in the past. Coming across with some weird camera angles, close-up’s, and I read about a shot prologue where Rambo tries to save some people from a flash flood. This was NOT in the final movie. Huh. I guess it was cut before the screening?
Stallone does his John Rambo almost on auto-pilot, having done the character for 37 years. Jaenada and Peris-Mencheta are sufficiently evil, while Barraza and Monreal are quite good in their small roles. I really wish that Paz Vega, in a woefully underdeveloped and thankless role, would have had a more meatier part.
Sly Stallone is as synonymous with his John Rambo character as he is with Rocky Balboa. From his 1982 entry to today, Rambo films has been parodied, satirized, copied, and quoted. This being the final (??) film in the long standing franchise, let’s take a look back at the history of the man, the myth, the legend.
First Blood (1982)
Based on David Morrell’s 1972 novel, this entry film had soft-spoken PTSD Vietnam war vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) alone in the world and walking to see his old war buddy. But after learning he died of cancer, John is devastated and wanders into the quaint little town of Hope, Washington. His troubles begin right away when a truly dick-of-a-sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), wants him ‘outta his town right now’. John, really not in the mood for this control freak a-hole, decides NOT to leave and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Soon it’s a savage game of John vs Will as the Vietnam vet goes into the woods to escape and the sheriff and his local yokels try and capture him. Oooo! Big mistake!
Even calling in John’s ex-commanding officer, Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna) doesn’t help. The original ending had Rambo committing suicide, but after test screenings were super-strong, a sequel was inevitable, so an alternate ending was shot and Rambo was allowed to live. An impeccable script by Stallone, Michael Kozell, and William Sackheim, plus Ted Kotcheff’s dazzling direction, and this was an instant money-maker.
Rambo: First Blood II (1985)
Using the Vietnam War as a backdrop, Col. Trautman (Crenna) recruits John Rambo (Stallone) with the promise of a full pardon if he’ll lead a band of mercenaries back into Vietnam to find POW’s that are still there. Naturally, the whole clandestine operation is being run by a real numbskull government official (Charles Napier) who wants everything run “by the book”, which really pisses-off John to no end. But, rules or no rules, John wants to rescue the guys held captive and he’ll do whatever it takes to get them out alive. Whatever!!
This means a whole lotta bloodshed, bombs, explosions, bullets, arrows, and one very nasty rocket-launcher. This movie also has Rambo’s signature screaming from a helicopter while firing at the enemy, hilariously parodied by Weird Al Yankovic in his movie, UHF. An action-packed screenplay by Stallone and James (Titanic) Cameron, the movie was almost too much… that scenario was saved for part three.
Rambo III (1988)
All the guy wants is to be left alone! Living a peaceful life in Thailand with monks, Rambo (Stallone) helps them build a monastery by day, and earns money by beating the crap outta people by doing some underground fighting. But, geez Louise! Col. Trautman (Crenna) HAS to ruin his day – again – by telling him that his help is needed. THIS time over in Afghanistan to help the anti-Soviet fighters. John refuses, but ends up going anyway after he hears that Trautman got captured. Damn!
John infiltrates a tribe of Pakistan freedom fighters as a cover, makes friends with them, and then leads them on a mission to take out the Russkies (and rescue his colonel). This is the film where Rambo takes out a huge Soviet war helicopter with a bomb-tipped arrow. It also was deliciously parodied by Charlie Sheen in his movie, Hot Shots: Part Deux. By now the franchise had gotta a little stale as the whole premise was pretty old hat: Rambo gets an assignment, kills people, goes back home. *yawn* So, it took a break. A very long break.
Decades later and John Rambo is still living in Thailand, but not working on that monastery; he’s selling snakes to a side-show. Well, ya gotta eat. Some really stupid missionaries want Rambo to take them upriver to war-ravaged and unbelievably dangerous Burma, but he refuses… until he doesn’t. After they are captured by the super-evil and relentlessly ruthless Major Pa Tee Tint (Maung Maung Khin), Rambo decides to rescue them with a bunch of hired gung-ho mercenaries. Then the bloodbath commences. And I DO mean bloodbath! How this movie didn’t get an NC-17 is beyond me. The sheer orgasm of over-the-top and ultra-graphic violence at the end is eye-popping and stomach-churning. Heads-exploding, bodies-torn in two, and enough disemboweling to make you shout, “Oh, COME ON!!”
But it doesn’t! Rambo rips the enemy apart with a high-powered machine gun that turns people into jelly. Ugh! In the end, and disgusted with it all (gee, I wonder why?), John returns home to his father’s ranch in Arizona where he’ll find peace and quiet. That is until he’ll kill a bunch of people again in 2019. Co-written & directed by Stallone, this movie made a ton of money at the box office, but was widely panned by the critics for (you guessed it) being unimaginably too violent.