Ever since 2008’s Rambo, there have been plans of a fifth film in this franchise. At one point, John Rambo was going to lead a team of commandos against a genetically altered creature in a movie that would have been called Rambo V: The Savage Hunt.
By November 2009, it was reported that the plot would be about Rambo crossing the Mexican border to rescue a girl who had been kidnapped. However, Stallone claimed that he was done with the character, stating, “I don’t think there’ll be any more. I’m about 99% sure, I was going to do it… but I feel that with Rocky Balboa, that character came complete circle. He went home. But for Rambo to go on another adventure might be, I think, misinterpreted as a mercenary gesture and not necessary. I don’t want that to happen.”
At Cannes the very next year, Millennium Films was already advertising Rambo V and planned to make the film with or without Stallone. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
Say what you will about Sylvester Stallone and his films, but he’s one of the few actors who has played multiple characters across multiple films. Don’t believe me? We went so far as to make a list all about this fact.
Now, Rambo has finally returned, with Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo) directing. Of course, this film has already been met with critical derision in regards to its script, stereotypes and violence. Yet Stallone’s career is one paved with negative ink. His audience — take it from someone who has watched nearly fifty of his films in thirty days — always comes back.
Eleven years after the last time we saw John Rambo, he’s moved on to live in his father’s ranch in Bowie, Arizona (actually Bulgaria). Along with Maria Beltran and her granddaughter Gabrielle, he has a horse farm and has seemed to settle into his old age. Yet his past life constantly threatens to re-emerge — he’s taking numerous pills, he has flashbacks and he’s built an elaborate series of tunnels under his home.
Gabrielle wants to see the father who abandoned her and goes to Mexico to attempt to connect. It goes horribly, leading to her visiting her friend Jezel and going barhopping. Truly, only Paul Kersey has a worse life than John Rambo, as within minutes she’s been roofied and enslaved by a Mexican cartel.
Our hero allows his need to protect her to take over his common sense and he’s quickly beaten into a near-coma by the gang, including Hugo and Victor Martinez. They take his driver’s license and a photo of Gabrielle, promising that now they’ll make her life a living hell — slicing both her face and Rambo’s with a bloody V.
Rambo is rescued by Carmen, a freelance journalist who lost her sister to the cartel. After healing, he rescues Gabrielle just in time for her to die as they cross the border back into the United States.
What follows is Rambo becoming Jason Vorhees, leading the gang into an elaborate trap ala Home Alone, but with more grand guignol than slapstick. If the ending melee in 2008’s Rambo upset you with its intensity and wanton bloodshed, well…better stay home.
Critics have loudly complained about the levels of blood and guts that the film displays, comparing it to a slasher film. If you’ve read any of the articles about the films that I truly adore, you know that this didn’t upset me in the least.
Of course, the xenophobic nature of Rambo as white savior in Mexico can be somewhat troubling. But honestly, I wasn’t heading into a Stallone blockbuster expecting it to be woke. There are an equal amount of positive Latino characters in this film, but the sheer rage of Rambo losing the last bit of beauty in his world is what this movie is really all about.
Sylvester Stallone is like a smart rock band from your teen years. He knows what works and what doesn’t. He’s coming to town every few months and he’s only going to play the hits. All killer, no filler, as they say. He isn’t going to make you listen to his artsy new single or play all night — the film clocks in at a spartan (John Spartan!) 89 minutes (although there is also a 101 minute foreign version).
Let’s face it — you’re coming to the theater to watch Rambo cut a man’s heart out and show it to him before he dies. This film is ready to deliver. If you’re expecting anything else — subtle nuance, political commentary or shades of grey — you’re in the wrong theater.