WARNING: The following contains spoilers Rambo: Last Blood, in theaters now.
Rambo: Last Blood has numerous problems, among them its overall theme. It's a dour argument that the world is a dark place, and sometimes it's better to unleash the worst parts of ourselves on the terrible people that deserve it.
However, the film almost sets up a genuinely intriguing storyline with Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega), a journalist who seeks the same goal that Sylverster Stallone's John Rambo does, only without the violence. But Last Blood instead uses her as an extended prop for its bleak message, which is a real shame.
After trying to rescue his niece, Maria, Rambo is beaten unconscious by the Mexican cartel that took her. He's saved by Carmen, who takes him into her home, calls a doctor to patch him up, and reveals she's an investigative reporter who's trying to bring the cartel's crimes to light. Her investigation gives Rambo a clue about who he needs to target, and he leaves to resume his bloody path to vengeance.
Like Rambo, Carmen's crusade is personal: Like Maria, her sister was abducted by the cartel and forced into slavery. She was found dead, left behind by the cartel after was no longer useful. It's an interesting parallel to Rambo's own violent ambitions. Both of their plans would result in the end of the group that targeted their loved ones, but while one is a violent and destructive path, the other could end everything without ever drawing blood. It also makes Carmer the closest thing in the film to a fully realized Hispanic character.
When Rambo returns to Mexico, he finds Maria. Although he escapes with her, she dies on the way home. Rambo decides to return to exact revenge on the cartel. One of his first stops is at Carmen's home, where he tries get as much information as he can about where the leaders of the cartel live so he can attack them when they're least expecting it. Carmen is reluctant to tell him, in part because she believes it's a suicide mission.
She tries to convince Rambo that killing people won't bring back the loved ones they lost. But all her protests are met with a dull refusal; he just keeps telling her the only thing that matters is revenge. After about the fourth time he says it, she relents and gives him the information he needs, and then disappears for the remainder of the film.
What It Could Have Been
There's a compelling idea in Rambo being confronted with an option other than open warfare. In the past, he has slaughtered scores of faceless enemies; in Last Blood, he wipes out scores of cartel members. But there's no indication his will do anything beyond feed the "darkness" within him. He's not saving lives, he's not even fighting a war. He's just killing for the sake of killing. However, the journalist provides another path, in that they can bring down the entire cartel system without firing a shot.
Rambo and Carmen could resolve their conflicting philosophies, as their goal is the same. It's a complicated question, whether to become something almost inhuman in order to eliminate something evil. The film could still take a grim direction, and have Rambo choose to go for revenge because he's an old soldier who can't let go, but having his methods thrown into question like that would have at least been an interesting direction.
As the supposed final entry in the series, Last Blood could have given the franchise a narrative throughline. The first film, 1982's First Blood, was a tragedy about Rambo inability to escape the war he barely survived. The character could have been confronted with one last chance to choose a different path, but, just like before, he can't escape who he is and who he's become. It could have given the film something more meaningful to say than "let's go killing." But that's not the kind of movie Rambo: Last Blood is. Instead, it wants an extended montage of people being stabbed, shot, blown up and stabbed again, to the point of sheer exhaustion.
In theaters nationwide, director Adrian Grunberg's Rambo: Last Blood stars Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Yvette Monreal.