Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Rambo: Last Blood, in theaters now.
Rambo: Last Blood is a drab film for most of its run time. The early acts feel like a poor imitation of Taken and the climax transforms it into a dark and brutal montage of relentless gory action. But there's a brief moment where the film finds a piece of inspiration and becomes a better-constructed film.
For a single moment, Rambo: Last Blood turns into a genuinely well-made horror movie, before again becoming a poorly-made mess.
Rambo is retired (again) at the beginning of the film. But although he's essentially found peace, he can't stop himself from preparing for a war that hasn't happened yet. He's constructed a series of tunnels underneath his farm, spending most of his time underground and forging weapons. He even briefly has a flashback, following the sounds of an endless war down the halls of the tunnels. When he's asked about it by Maria, he reasons that it's just something that he likes to do.
The set is a weird choice initially, giving Rambo a tie to his past without really ever exploring his feelings on the matter besides "I like digging." It ends up becoming a major location for the third act of the film, however, when Rambo finally fully enrages the cartel, he moves back to his farm to await them. There, he sets up a number of explosive traps around the exterior of the area, and gets to work turning the tunnels into an obstacle course of death with farm equipment.
After luring the cartel back to his farm, Rambo's traps wipe out many of them. The ones that aren't taken out initially follow him into the cave system he's constructed. The film then quietly shifts gears, and becomes something very different and way more interesting: The direction gets tighter, and almost all sound fades away. The sound of cartel soldiers moving through the tunnels is some of the only audio. Occasionally, there will be the sound of someone moving around a corner. There are also glimpses of shadows, which disappear and lure them further into the tunnels. And then they start to set off the traps and are brutally picked off.
It's actually a well-constructed scene. Rambo: Last Blood is largely a film without tension. There's no question of what's coming next at any point. But as the film shifts focus, and finds an interesting way to find tension, focusing it on the cartel members and what's about to happen to them. It's filmed like a horror movie where Rambo is the slasher killer. The various traps reinforce this, making the entire sequence feel like something out of Saw instead of a Rambo movie. It's an interesting shift to make, and it actually works for the scene. Well, at least it starts that way.
Then some classic rock starts to blare through the tunnels, and the film turns into an extended montage of Rambo just killing people. All of the tension over what comes next disappears. It turns into a non-stop flood of gore, with people getting shot in the back and stabbed through various traps. At one point, Rambo uses a sawed-off shotgun to essentially explode a man's head. He fires at point-blank range, reducing the head to a splatter. As he walks by, he uses a different gun to double-tap the body, because apparently you can walk off losing your head in this film. The film stops trying to find tension in the events and shifts into full-blown splatter-porn. Rambo transforms back into a superhuman, even essentially walking off multiple gunshot wounds so he can kill the leader of the cartel by literally ripping out his heart.
The sequence in the tunnels begins as this weird flash of interesting filmmaking, that then nose-dives into an extended montage of nonstop hyper-violence that becomes so tiresome so quickly that it finds a way to make shotgun with phosphorus bullets boring. If the filmmakers are going to make Rambo basically invincible, then the tension of the action beats needs to come from somewhere else. The film doesn't give any of the henchmen a personality beyond "evil Mexicans" so none of the tension can naturally come from them going up against Rambo. But for a brief shining moment, the film showcased how it could have constructed a unique and terrifying action sequence. But Rambo: Last Blood is more concerned with trying to get a visceral reaction out of seeing gangbangers getting murdered ad nausea.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo) from a script written by Sylvester Stallone and Matt Cirulnick (Absentia), Rambo: Last Blood stars Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Yvette Monreal.