If there’s a creative shepherd behind the entire Rambo series, it’s not Sylvester Stallone necessarily because he’s the star (though he seems powerful and image conscious enough to have a real investment in it) but because he’s written or co-written them all.
But after this effort, it seems like he sat down in his home office some time in 1980 or 1981 after reading David Morrell’s novel and decided to initiate a 40 year plan to copy exactly what the Death Wish franchise became. The first movie was about the deeper social themes of the source material (the sociopolitical rejection of Vietnam veterans, in this case) and amped up the rippling biceps and wilderness warfare just because it was Sylvester Stallone, action star®.
After that, every subsequent Rambo movie became a more brainless action genre piece, uncaringly jettisoning any of Morrell’s intent around PTSD, anger and father issues until it was just Stallone’s torso and explosive bow and arrow versus the entire Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
And it’s all led here, taking the same dry character archetype husk and clumsily pasting it over a generic bad guy Mexican drug and sex traffickers template, leaving an actor who once had something to say using the Rambo name looking old, tired, disinterested and slightly embarrassed. It replaces competent plot mechanics with inelegant careering all over the map and genuine action with lazy, exploitation-level gore.
Rambo now lives a peaceful life on a ranch with his Hispanic housekeeper and her daughter, a young lady he’s virtually raised with her. It’s the exact same role played by Natalie Reyes in the abortion of Terminator: Dark Fate – eager, talented and very pretty but suffering with a woeful script in the hands of fatigued former action genre greats who should be sunning themselves in the grounds of a Hollywood rest home instead.
She’s due to go off to college but she’s on a mission to reconnect with the father who ran off before she was born, a scumbag who lives in a Mexican barrio and whose only purpose as a plot device is to put her within the grasp of a pair of drug and prostitution kingpins, delivered via a scummy sometime girlfriend of hers who might as well be wearing a T shirt with her nefarious intentions printed on it.
She’s swiped by the bad guys, put into service as a hooker and injected with heroin. Rambo, apparently the same uniquely skilled warrior we’ve seen now over four movies, just drives down there and walks up to the bad guys stronghold, getting the shit kicked out of him and failing to save the girl.
A journalist who’s been on the case of the two brothers running the crime empire witnesses the attack and takes Rambo home, nursing him back to health (playing the exact same role Rosana De Soto did in Man on Fire – crusading journalist who enables the stoic hero to do things His Own Way™).
When Rambo’s well enough to go back in, he extracts the now very sick girl but loses her to an overdose on the way home. It’s better than a ride-into-the-sunshine happy ending moment and does have an element of surprise, but it’s still a blatant foil to transform him into the stoic hero with Nothing Left To Lose™.
Because they know where he lives, having taken his license when they first attacked him, Rambo knows they’ll be coming for him – especially since he left one of the brothers sitting up peacefully in his bed in the barrio mansion with his head separated from his neck.
He sends the housekeeper – mysteriously unfazed at the brutal death of her teenage daughter – away and treats us to a montage (has there ever been a more Stallone-y film fixture?) of him wiring up and setting booby traps around the property, house and tunnels underneath the ranch.
Even when we get to that violent third act it might have led to some payoff with decent action movie kinetics and geography, but no. Rambo sets up his traps and then waits for every minion and goon to walk into them one after the other.
Director Adrian Grünberg is just ticking the boxes he’s already established until Rambo rides off into the sunset (on a horse, even though we’ve already seen him run them all off so they don’t get hurt in the coming melee – just one example of lazy plotting/editing), bodies strewn everywhere like Jonestown.
Finally the end credits roll over slo-mo sequences from the other Rambo movies as if to remind you that everything that came before – even the subpar efforts – was far better.
At one stage (Copland, most notably), Stallone threatened to make a career as a real actor who could play interesting characters, but in the years since it seems he’s just been building extra wings on his house for his art collection or something. He pivoted the right way with the Rocky franchise with Creed, though that was thanks to Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan, but in everything else he’s becoming a bad self parody.
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