Over his more than 35-year career, Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo has emerged from the jungles of Vietnam to rain hell upon small-town America, gone back to rescue POWs, swayed the outcome of the Soviet-Afghan war and rescued Christian missionaries from Burmese militants. Through four movies, from 1982's "First Blood" to 2008's "Rambo," he's been both America's bad conscience and its symbol of moral certitude, all while delivering blood-soaked, blockbuster entertainment.
In his fifth and ostensibly final film, "Rambo: Last Blood," the old guerrilla soldier does the unexpected: He abandons all pretense of politics and goes small-scale, embarking on a simple mission to find a kidnapped family member.
Call it a thematic retreat at one of the most incendiary political moments in living memory. Not for John Rambo the hot-button issues of the Trump era _ race, class, immigration, global economics and so on. (Gun control? Fuhgeddaboudit.) The love of a man for his family, as Liam Neeson's "Taken" series has proved, is the one thing all viewers can get behind, a safe bet at today's polarized box-office.
Yvette Monreal plays Gabriela, Rambo's teenage niece (she calls him Uncle John) and just the kind of doe-eyed beauty that tends to attract wolves. Sure enough, she takes a trip to Mexico despite Rambo's warnings _ "I know how black a man's heart can be!" _ and ends up in the basement of a prostitution ring. It's run by the Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Oscar Jaenada), who lead a virtual army of bald, burly, tattooed Mexicans. Stereotypes, you say? Try to remember what movie you've walked into.
This is all pretty well-worn territory (Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick wrote the screenplay), so "Last Blood" tries to distinguish itself by pouring on the splatter like no other entry before it. That becomes clear when Rambo begins literally hammering people to death, but you ain't seen nothing yet. As the bumbling Mexicans invade Rambo's Arizona compound _ they're the Washington Generals to his Harlem Globetrotters _ director Adrian Grunberg goes for an almost horror-flick level of gore: blasted-off faces, bisected bodies, trisected skulls, you name it.
Stallone, at 73, still has the granite physique and icy stare to make us believe in his character. But it's a little disappointing that this iconic soldier is being put out to pasture with such a desultory finale. Did we really come all this way with John Rambo just so he could tell us father knows best?