Franchise Expansion Or Implosion – Rambo: Last Blood

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Sylvester Stallone is a cornerstone of the action genre. Throughout his career, Stallone has created two of the most beloved underdogs ever. One of these underdogs is, of course, John Rambo. A character who, for better or worse, has become an American icon. The return of Rambo is right around the corner with the latest (and presumably final) installment in this movie series, Rambo: Last Blood. As such, we’ve finally reached the supposed end of this series long road arriving at Rambo: Last Blood (2019)!

For a character like Rambo, war is never over. Well, at least not until the box-office grosses go down. The recently released, fifth, and presumably final installment in this franchise, Rambo: Last Blood, is certainly proof of that. Following the success of Rambo (2008), Sylvester Stallone began developing a follow-up on one level or another. 

Over the next decade-plus, what was initially titled Rambo V took many different iterations. One of which was outlandish and involved Rambo facing-off against an alien. Had that approach been taken, I’ve no doubt it would have basically been Rambo VS. Predator, with Sly’s pal, Arnold Schwarzenegger making a cameo. Then there was a more somber take, which Stallone outlined in collaboration with the creator of Rambo, First Blood author David Morrell. Alas, that collaboration was abandoned, and not much is known about it. At one point, Stallone even considered not going through with a fifth entry. However, the actor and co-writer decided against giving Rambo an honorable discharge. 

Eventually, Stallone decided to go with a story that he had considered using for the previous picture. Thus, Rambo V would involve the titular protagonist saving a kidnapped young girl from El Cartel. If this sounds like an off-kilter storyline for a Rambo flick, it should. Stallone had initially tossed aside this plot when developing the previous installment, citing that it did not seem like the right story for a proper Rambo sequel. Well, Stallone’s first instinct in regards to this story was right on the money, in my opinion. Even so, this story is essentially what Rambo: Last Blood gives us.

For the last decade, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has had a semblance of peace and happiness in life. Our war-torn hero now lives on his family land, working as a rancher. Thankfully, Rambo doesn’t live alone. Instead, he now has a surrogate family comprised of a family who was renting from Rambo’s late father upon his return. Alas, this peace doesn’t last when sex traffickers kidnap Rambo’s surrogate niece, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Now, Rambo must revert to the violent way of life he knows to save Gabriella!

I try not to let a movie’s marketing influence my initial impression of a picture. However, I must admit that when I saw the first trailer for this flick, two thoughts occurred. Firstly, I was reminded of how much I hate Old Town Road, even when given a dower remix. Second, and more importantly, though, I thought, “This doesn’t feel like a Rambo movie.” Well, it turns out my instinct, as well as Stallone’s initial inclination not to use this plot was right on the money. Folks, this is barely a Rambo film; in fact, it’s more like Stallone’s take on Taken (2008).

But boy, does Last Blood try to make you feel like it’s a proper Rambo picture. However, the film gives you no real backstory on the titular character for any newcomers. Nor does it provide any background on how Rambo came to have this new surrogate family. On the contrary, the movie expects you to know Rambo and assume things. Pacing wise, Rambo: Last Blood just daudles for the first 40 minutes of its scant 89-minute runtime (the shortest of the franchise). Following that, the film descends into endless exploitation style violence in which Rambo seemingly utilizes little of his covert military training, vying to go full Road House (1989) instead. Throughout  all this, the film’s story is propelled by a series of ridiculous and unnecessary plot decisions. (Not to mention an unexplained subplot involving underground tunnels.)

Last Blood is competently directed by Adrain Grunberg (Get the Gringo) and features solid performances from its entire cast. Outside of those qualities, though,  I feel this movie is an absolute wasted opportunity. Given the film’s setting, it could’ve easily been a Western starring John Rambo. Unfortunately,  I believe First Blood author David Morrell was right when he recently dubbed Last Blood, “A clumsy exploitation film, I’m ashamed to have my name associated with.” Indeed, this fifth entry is an uneven exploitation flick with an unfortunate Trumpian bent to its politics. As such, Last Blood is a disappointing purported swan song for Rambo and a Definite Franchise Implosion! Sadly, though, it seems Stallone won’t let the war end for Rambo.  Recently, the actor teased not only another sequel but also a prequel centering on a teenage Rambo. In closing, I hope Stallone will leave this franchise alone for good.


Rambo: Last Blood is Now Playing!


Read my other Franchise Expansion or Implosion: Rambo articles here:

First Blood


Rambo: First Blood Part II


Rambo III




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