Movie Misfires: Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Did the last installment in the Rambo series get the guns right, or was it way over the top?

Rambo: Last Blood is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

This is a new kind of movie review where we give you our take on a film followed by our take on the depiction of the use and/or sale of firearms in said movie. We’ll be covering classics and newer films, but we will not be getting political—just applying the filter of reality, within reason.



THE MOVIE

Let’s just talk about the theatrical version that was released in the U.S. for the sake of clarity. Canada and the UK got a longer version, by about 11 minutes, that includes a completely different beginning, but we’ll talk about that separately later.

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) does a pretty good job of establishing who this John Rambo is. When we watch sequels, we kind of expect that a little time has passed in between, but often, since they are attempting to continue a story, filmmakers will make efforts to have it appear as if no time has passed between films being made. Usually several years have elapsed in real life, but the characters have maybe aged a month or two, or even a couple minutes, depending on the story. The existing John Wick movies (at the time of this writing, the fourth film has not yet been released) take place over the course of just a few days but were released over the course several years.

If you take the whole Rambo series as one long story, it’s really interesting—and yes, I’ve done this seriously because I’m a freaking nerd. From First Blood to Rambo III, six years pass in real life, and there’s no indication that any different amount of time has passed in the movies. Characters state in the second movie that it’s 1985. It’s possible FB is set earlier than 1982 when it was released, but I can’t find any evidence on way or the other in the movie and even if that was the intention, it would only be a couple years difference.

So that’s six years with the third movie coming out in 1988. Then, Rambo movies stopped. For 20 years.

The next film, simply titled Rambo didn’t come out until 2008. Stallone had aged 20 years and was now in his early 60s—and time had passed. The character had to be a lot different, but he couldn’t be too different, because all that time passage also means they had to be sure to harken back to the original films for the built-in older audience. Rambo is a different person. He’s angry for a lot of reasons and still really sharp from the way he’s been living. Basically, other than just being older, he’s at the top of his game.

And then, another break of a decade comes before LB. A whole decade for the character and the actor to change—but instead of living as a near hermit snake hunter and blacksmith in some backwater in war torn Burma, he’s been training horses on his family farm in Arizona and coming to terms with himself, and becoming some version of a family man. And yeah, he got a little soft, and a lot more emotional. He takes meds and is clearly still suffering from PTSD, and those may effect how sharp he is as well. Plus he’s freakin’ 70 years old.

saddle ring carbine
Rambo emerges from one of his tunnels with a Winchester saddle ring carbine. imfdb.org

And, this is the first Rambo story since First Blood to not only take place outside of a major military conflict, but to take place in the U.S. This presents a number of problems. In the novel First Blood, Rambo kills all the cops that are hunting for him in the woods. Morally, the filmmakers realized this would be an issue for audiences, so they changed that to Rambo wounding them all and just putting them out of action.

Last Blood faces the same problem, in that we have to find a way for Rambo to kill a bunch of people, because that’s what audience’s have come to expect from a Rambo movie, while not being in a warzone.

Some folks have said the way they did this was by simply moving most of the bad things to Mexico, reinforcing racist stereotypes about our neighbors to the south. Possibly. But the drug cartels are extremely powerful in Mexico and I’d wager the dangerous parts of cities in Mexico are a lot more dangerous than their counterparts in U.S. cities. And human trafficking is a big problem everywhere, with concentrations in Mexico.

During the past 10 years and even in the 20 years between Rambo III and Rambo, there were rumors of scripts that had Rambo facing off against white supremacists, so its obvious a number of options to solve this problem were explored.

Underground he’s built a blacksmith shop and a living space, but also, a network of interconnecting passages that have been built with a purpose. Early in the movie, after we see the farm and him doing some daily tasks, we see him checking the lightbulbs in his tunnel, indicating he follows a strict maintenance schedule—this is part of how he’s adapted to stay sane in a civilian world—and he has a couple flashes of PTSD. First, I kind of hate how it’s characterized like this…indistinct flashes with echoing voiceovers and the camera going in and out of focus.

Rambo is consumed by emotion and walks right into a very bad situation.
Rambo is consumed by emotion and walks right into a very bad situation. imfdb.org

Underground he’s built a blacksmith shop and a living space, but also, a network of interconnecting passages that have been built with a purpose. Early in the movie, after we see the farm and him doing some daily tasks, we see him checking the lightbulbs in his tunnel, indicating he follows a strict maintenance schedule—this is part of how he’s adapted to stay sane in a civilian world—and he has a couple flashes of PTSD. First, I kind of hate how it’s characterized like this…indistinct flashes with echoing voiceovers and the camera going in and out of focus.

I just feel there’s a million better ways they could have done this. Maybe this was one of the few indications of a short budget for this film, but I can’t be the only one who would have really dug some quick flashes of Rambo in Vietnam. They didn’t have to be super clear or anything and they can do all that wild de-aging stuff now. It would have really made it feel more authentic. Even still, a more realistic depiction of PTSD would have been appreciated.

But, what we got was, weird. He hears the voice of a newscaster talking about the Vietnam War…but why would he have echoes of what was on TV in the states that he most likely never heard because he was, you know, fighting in Vietnam? Later we get some actual visual flashes of footage instead of light—of what appears to be actual news footage of troops in Vietnam—which also makes no sense if what we’re seeing is supposed to be what’s going on in John’s head. I would have rather seen flashes from the previous films the way they did in Rambo (2008), even if it would have been slightly repetitive, and would rather have heard Trautman’s voice, or even Co Bao’s, Murdock’s or Teasle’s voice—pretty much anyone from the series other than the generic voice they used.

It took me out of the movie a bit right when it was starting to drag me in. It also happens a little too early with no inciting incident. This is partly a pacing problem created when the original beginning was cut.

He goes down to Mexico and interrogates the contact of his niece’s traitorous friend. And then we get more PTSD flashes as Rambo walked into the crowded nightclub. I guess we’re supposed to believe it’s because he threw away his meds and because of the strobe lights? Either way, we hear the dialog from this very same movie, things he said to his niece during their conversation in the tunnel as voiceover, and really loud voiceover too. It’s weird and jarring and it just should not have been there. It’s distracting and all it does is remind you very awkwardly that you’re watching a movie when tension should have been building.

Benelli M3 Super 90 shotgun
Rambo surprises the bad guys from another hole, using a Benelli M3 Super 90 shotgun to ignite a gasoline booby trap. imfdb.org

The interrogation scene that follows is baller though, and brutal—so much so that I forgave the other goofiness when I saw it the first time, but on repeat viewings I just can’t get past it—especially because that’s an editing room decision, and it was a bad one.

So OK, he tortures this dude and gets the location of the traffickers. And drives the bad guy’s truck there. And here we have the biggest problem with the movie, especially among fans.

Rambo just kind of…saunters in. Just walks right down the sidewalks and up the stairs. He makes some effort to stay in the shadows, but it doesn’t seem like he has much of a plan. He’s spotted almost immediately by a lookout who calls it in on a cell phone. I don’t know if he was just not expecting this many men or that they would be organized, but he’s quickly surrounded. Like, what the hell did he think was going to happen? The Rambo we know would have waited, watched the area for a while, figured out a way inside without being seen. All he has is a pistol that he doesn’t even get a chance to draw before he’s corned by a literal gang of armed dudes on a rooftop.

I attribute this to a couple things. Like I said earlier, he’s gotten a bit soft and emotional. His mind is not used to planning and killing the way he did before—plus the effects of the meds he’s been on, and abruptly stopping them.

I think he’s actually in kind of a manic state over his niece. He hasn’t cared about someone the way you care for family for most of his wife. All of a sudden she’s in danger and he doesn’t feel like he can save her. He thinks through the steps, but the need to try and get her back and get her back as soon as he can causes him to screw up and blunder into a situation he didn’t really understand or anticipate. Even when confronted by the gang, he doesn’t have anything ready to say or any way of bargaining—he had no plan. That said, they could have done a lot better job of conveying this. Otherwise it’s just kind of confusing. And then instead of having Rambo escape somehow—we get one of those classic bad guy clichés of the villain letting the good guy go, so he can think about how badly he’s failed—only to super regret that decision later.

Rambo should have been a little more unhinged throughout this, but I blame mostly the cinematography for not conveying this. I mean, Rambo came really close to ripping a dude’s collar bone out of his body with his bare hands and threatened to cut up a teenage girl—so yeah, we see from his behavior that he’s lost it. I just think they filmed the scene where he approaches the trafficker’s compound poorly. He should have been confused, completely consumed by anger, which would have made his blunder make more sense.

He even says how he has tunnel vision later when talking to the journalist who rescues him.

“It doesn’t work this way. There’s too many of them. Are you crazy, what?”

“I’m not thinking about that. All I could think about is how scared she must be. What she’s going through.”

Rambo fires a sawed-off double barrel at a cartel member impaled on one of his booby traps in the tunnels.
Rambo fires a sawed-off double barrel at a cartel member impaled on one of his booby traps in the tunnels. imfdb.org

That, coupled with some kind of escape that relied on chance instead of uncharacteristic mercy from the bad guys, would have seriously improved the logical flow in this problematic area of the movie.

But, this does keep the pattern from the previous movies—in all but First Blood, Rambo’s first rescue attempted of whoever he is rescuing is ultimately unsuccessful, forcing him to regroup, injured, and make another go at it with greater force. In Part II, he manages to rescue one POW, but they are both captured and he rescues all the POWs when he returns and destroys the camp, in Part III he is forces to leave Trautman behind after finding him when he is discovered by guards, but rescues him and the other prisoners in the Soviet fort in the final Act—in the fourth movie, he rescues Sarah, but the other missionaries and his mercenary comrades are all recaptured at the river, until Rambo saves…most of them.

The next time John goes into action after healing from the vicious beating he took, and after the meds have cleared his system a bit, he’s more like his old self. He’s waaaay more successful with his assault on the brothel and even has a plan and pretends to be a customer to get inside and quickly scope things out before getting down with that hammer. But this is still pretty reckless, considering he’s not even armed with a pistol or a knife this time, but only a freakin hammer.

It all makes sense and it’s all there. He’s kind of lost his mind. After he came home, he tried to put it all down and bury everything he’s lived through, live in his new life where none if it mattered and it was all very far away. He finally has someone in his life he cares about he and he puts all his hopes and everything he is into her. It’s what he has decided to live for after having nothing but raw determination propelling him forward for decades. Then this happens.

He’s seen what evil people do to kidnapped women all his life and now the first person he’s truly cared for, probably since the war, is just taken and he’s as helpless as anyone else, consumed by what he knows she’s going through, and at the same time, his emotions are a mess from the meds—with the original beginning, this is compounded by what he sees as a failure to save the people who died instead of a success at saving the one who did, and he equates this with not being able to save everyone he’s know throughout his violent life who has been killed—a veritable lifetime of survivor’s guilt.

It’s all right there, but the movie just doesn’t take its time when it should and does a poor job of emphasizing very important things that needed to be hit home hard and in the right order.

After Gabrielle dies, that’s it. John stops fighting it and let’s himself fall into the cold killer that he’s been most of his life, probably not planning to live through this last fight. He doesn’t have anything to fight for other than pure revenge. So we see a much angrier and brutal Rambo than we’ve ever seen before.

It tracks, but like I said, there are pacing problems.

The third act is way too stripped down. It’s missing something. Oddly enough, I think the whole movie is missing a character.

In the third act, there’s to fill it other than maybe a longer montage of John building the traps on the farm. I would have done that…not much longer, but just a little.

He has a great conversation with the reporter after going back to Mexico, but other than her, there’s literally nobody left for him to talk to or interact with other than the dudes he wants to kill.

I think the whole part where he hunts down “the skinny one who cut her” should have been prolonged and blown out. They should have started find there men beheaded with their bodies strung up over the course of a say a week or two. Every night, someone kills one of their men. The cartel soldiers start getting really skittish, talking about demons and giving the killer some kind of ominous and cool nickname.

And then, when the skinny one is finally killed, Rambo leaves the photo and the knife as a calling card to let the cartel know who did it, daring them to come get him.

They do, and they’re terrified because they’re seeking out the dude who has been cutting their friends apart. And this would have provided opportunity to give the bad guys a little more depth—but the enemy in all the Rambo movies other than the first one have been pretty one dimensional.

Then the tunnel sequence should have been a good bit longer. It should have been drawn out a bit more with strategic silence used to build tension and we should have really seen the bad guys be afraid. They aren’t hardened soldiers, their drug dealers with guns. Remember that scene in Batman Begins at the shipping yard when Batman makes his debut, picking guys off one at a time, and the last dude left shoots wildly in all directions screaming, “What are you!?” That’s where the dudes assaulting Rambo’s farm should have been when they realized they trapped in the tunnels.

It should just have been slower and or deliberate, more like the cave sequence from Rambo III.

As for that missing character—stay with me—I feel like there should have been some kind of law enforcement character, someone of authority. My gut is to say the local sheriff who Rambo works with on the local rescue operations—which also got cut. He knows Rambo has talkents beyond what he may say, he’s seen him work first hand and is maybe even wary enough to keep an eye on him from time to time. He shouldn’t be adversarial, possibly even friendly. Just wary, and maybe even worried abouthim.

He realizes John is gone for a while and finds him at the farm along with the new grave, maybe before he goes back down to Mexico. That could have made for an interesting conversation, with the sheriff basically agreeing to look the other way, maybe trying to get John to promise it will all stay south of the border. It would also have given the third act some more meat.

And a scene after the showdown at the farm where the sheriff comes and sees the place in utter devastation would have been priceless.

Those are my gripes with this movie, in total. Was it as strong as the previous entry? No, and it was different from any other movie in the series—and I’m OK with that. I like it for what it is. It’s disappointing to think that some minor changes would have made it so much better.

Was it a necessary entry? No, but you could argue that no un-planned sequel is. Did the character of Rambo deserve to have yet another round of horror and tragedy visited upon him after all he’s been through? It’s debatable. Also, you don’t have to watch it. You can pretend the story ends at the end of Rambo, or you can decide it ends at the conclusion of First Blood. It’s really up to you. A series of movies isn’t a novel, or even a TV show—you don’t have accept every addition to the story.

I also hate the voiceover at the end and based on recent photos of Stallone, Rambo really should have had a gray beard in this one.

And one other small nit to pick—Rambo was a Green Beret and one of his skills was picking up local language. He speaks Vietnamese, he speaks Burmese, he speaks Thai, but after living with two Spanish speakers for over a decade he doesn’t seem to be able to manage more than a few words, though he does appear to understand it fairly well.


THE GUNS

For a detailed breakdown of all the guns used in Rambo: Last Blood, go here

For details on all the guns used by Rambo throughout the film series, go here.

Despite this being a Rambo movie, there really isn’t any shooting until the giant showdown at the end. Could you build an effective booby trap out of a compound bow? The way it was done, sure, why the hell not.

Rambo stashes a number of firearms of various sorts throughout his tunnel, instead of carrying one and extra ammo. So he never fires too many rounds from any gun, and the only full auto firearm he uses is an M16—and that’s only to empty a mag into two dudes who are already dead. He uses some shotguns at extreme close range that blow the tops of some heads clean off, but no bodies are flung 20 feet through the air with shotgun blasts.

He fires what appears to be a reasonable number of rounds from both a lever action Winchester 94 saddlering carbine and a pump action shotgun before discarding them and changing positions.

He rigs a number of landmines in his tunnels, and like real mines, they go off when you step on them, not when you step off them like movie mines so often do. His other traps are all variations of real booby traps used by the Viet Cong during the war, which is a great touch and harkens back to the traps he built in the forest in First Blood.

There’s only one problem with all of this…where the hell did he get enough explosives to do all this? For blowing up the entire tunnel system, sure I can believe he mixed up some home brew stuff, maybe a diesel and fertilizer type thing, but he has actual landmines, and they don’t look to be improvised home-made ones either.

Rambo M16A1 rifle
Rambo firing an M16A1 into a pit. imfdb.org

As far as firearms, they kept it realistic. He has a full-auto AR that looks like an M16A1, but there are lots of ways he could have that and it’s not unbelievable that someone like John Rambo would know how to illegally make a semi-auto M16-styled AR into full auto with a whole workshop at his disposal. He has all these guns before the beginning of the movie—and we see his gun rack in one of the first shots. In that shot, we see some belted ammunition that looks like .308, but it’s hard to tell—but we never see anything that shoots belted ammo, so that’s a little strange.

Of course, the cartel guys are kitted out in all kinds of fancy stuff. ARs and submachine guns with all kinds of attachments and slings, gold AKMs. Some are wearing tactical vests and the leader has some fancy armored gloves and a tricked out AR. About what you’d expect—I don’t know how well armed or what kind of stuff real Mexican cartel members have, but it’s safe to assume, with their money and resources, this is pretty close.

During the tunnel sequence, Rambo briefly uses an M1 Garand.
During the tunnel sequence, Rambo briefly uses an M1 Garand. imfdb.org

We also see Rambo loading some custom magnesium incendiary shotgun rounds on a press in his workshop and, from the little we see, it looks as legit as it can.

My biggest gripe about the weapon use in this movie comes from one of the final scenes. Rambo has been shot in the side and in the right shoulder, yet he still manages to fire multiple arrows from a recurve bow.

The bad guys show up at the farm armed to the teeth.
The bad guys show up at the farm armed to the teeth. imfdb.org

The Original Beginning

Fans who had seen screenshots of Rambo on horseback in the rain rocking and old school cowboy had and slicker at night were a little confused when nothing corresponding to that was in the movie. They weren’t imagining things.

For some reason, when the movie was released in the U.S., a 10-minute segment was cut from the beginning of the movie.

In this alternate beginning, John helps local officials in rescue efforts during a flash flood. A group of three hikers or campers are in the path of danger and John comes in on horseback and manages to save one, but two die.

The inclusion of this beginning helps with pacing issues at the top of the film and makes the characters a little more coherent. We get a little exposition early on as to who the people are John lives with on the ranch, instead of having to kind of figure it out later on and we also see that John is not really peaceful. That he’s still constantly struggling with the violence of his past and trying to atone for things he’s done as well, but always feeling like he’s failing.

The full 100-minute version of the movie was released in Canada and the UK, but it’s even absent from the U.S. Blu Ray release, which is kind of infuriating.

GOOD IMPACTS:

All the firearm use was spot on with no movie gun cliches that I could find. There was one instance of a civilian owning a full-auto M16A2, but it’s totally acceptable in the context and plausible.

MISFIRES:

The guns were good to go, but the likelihood of a civilian in Arizona having all the explosives on hand that Rambo uses is like…50 percent at best.

FINAL GRADE: A—

Check out more film reviews in our Movie Misfires series here!