Sunday, 22 September 2019

Rambo - Last Blood

Blood Wiser Bear

Rambo - Last Blood
Directed by Adrian Grunberg
2019 USA
UK cinema release print.

Aaah... not sure where to start with Rambo - Last Blood.

Regular readers of my blog will know I have a lot of respect, time and admiration for Sylvester Stallone. I think he’s one of the few, true, larger than life ‘Hollywoood stars’ we have left but also a great actor and strong writer who could have maybe had a more varied career. The Rambo films are, for me, among his least interesting films but I loved his fourth one, Rambo, and I’ve always loved the scores to these things. If you want to know my feelings on the other Rambo movies, my review of the whole tetralogy before this one is here.

I was actually fairly looking forward to this fifth entry into the cycle but, it has to be said, I was a little disappointed with it. Not because it’s that badly written (in terms of dialogue at least) and the clich├ęd plot is not necessarily a thorn in its side either... I think this kind of storyline could have made a good Rambo movie, to be honest. And the revenge/action device as a call to arms present here is also pretty good... the movie is honestly a lot of fun in places.

The acting is not bad either. Stallone is cool (although... I think he his characterisation is part of the problem here) and his supporting cast, especially Yvette Monreal as the niece who Rambo has to go and rescue from the prostitution ring who have enslaved her, are all very good here.

And the action is, mostly, well put together. Or at least, the dramatic weight of it is. Stallone is one of those few actors (and directors, when he puts his hand to it... I’m assuming he has a lot to say when being directed himself and so has an influence on the way things turn out in the movies he’s in)... who understands that if you want to have an action cinema then you have to have the long pauses between the action sequences to give the audience a break and to make the scenes of violence or kinetic energy more potent when they come. Using those elements more as a punctuation to the story rather than being what the story is about. Kurosawa knew this. Steven Spielberg knows this. Sly Stallone knows this. And there is that element here to the film too.

And it is a lot of fun and certainly an entertaining picture a lot of the time.

I do, however, have three problems with the film and, for me, they do put quite a dampener on all the positive stuff but, you never know, some films grow better with age when you watch them again in later years and I suspect this might well be the case with this fifth one.

So my first problem is John Rambo himself. The way he is written and, because of that, Stallone’s portrayal of him, is really not like the character as we've known him. For a start, he talks too much. Rambo was always the strong silent type and though there is one scene where he lets his glares do all the talking for him, when he first approaches the Mexican traffickers, he really is not like the Rambo we’ve known in previous movies and I had a really hard time trying to equate this version of the character with the one we last saw eleven years ago, to be honest. Yeah, I know the character has moved on and he’s become a different person now but, even so, it still felt a bit of a wrong departure for this movie. This big bear of a man is wiser but not necessarily as close to his origins as I would have liked. This felt like it could be any generic action movie with any one of many modern action stars playing the central role... it didn’t feel like a Rambo movie. The plot... yes. The character... no.

Secondly, the big action sequence at the end seems terribly edited to me. It was way too fast. It was very gory and I’m not complaining about that... this element was perhaps the only part of the whole affair that brought it back in line with the previous four but... it has to be said, I was struggling to follow it. Not the sequencing or anything, I was cool with that. It was the details of the deaths which I was struggling with... they were just too fast for me to see what was going on. I could see lots of people's heads and limbs were being folded, spindled and mutilated but, before I had time to register what had happened when somebody's face suddenly got pulverised, for instance, the film had already moved on. So I could have done with a little more understanding of what I’d just seen in a few instances.

Thirdly... the score. I love Brian Tyler’s music and it was when he provided the score to the last film in the series, following in the giant, mythical footsteps of the late, great Jerry Goldsmith, that I first started to notice Tyler’s work and, I’ve been an admirer of his scores since then. This one, however, felt less like a Rambo score but... it’s hard to tell, to be honest. He does quote Jerry’s themes a little but it felt to me like there were some real missed opportunities, especially near the end, where he could have elevated the spirit of Rambo through the music a little more than he did. Not necessarily his fault, of course, he might have gone that way and the studio rejected those cues for all I know. However, this is a very noisy film when the action starts and, for the most part, Tyler’s score is not dialled up far enough in the sound mix to really hear it properly or feel the benefit, I thought. I’d love to hear it away from the movie but, alas, it looks like this may be the first Rambo film not to get a CD release (just a stupid, electronic download thing which isn’t the best way to actually hear the music as recorded) and so it looks like I may never get a chance to hear it now. Which is a great shame. I’m hoping Intrada records might leap to the rescue here at some point but I’m not holding my breath.

And that’s all I’ve got on Rambo - Last Blood. The film ends with a montage of clips from all five films with the last section even having a further hint at John Rambo’s final fate with a bit of footage you don’t get to see in the main film... but again, the scoring on this section felt wrong and it could have really done with some more of Goldsmith’s original themes in here. All in all, if you’re a fan of modern action movies and have no great loyalty to the earlier films in the franchise, then I’d say you’d probably have a good time with the new one. Some older fans may struggle with this version of the character but, ultimately, it’s a solid action movie so it should win the majority of them over, I suspect. Not my favourite of the series by any sense of the imagination but I’m glad I saw it and I wish they’d have done a ‘final stand’ movie which was more appropriate to the original character. I was a little disappointed with this one.

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