WARNING: The following contains spoilers Rambo: Last Blood, in theaters now.
By now, it's pretty well known that Rambo: Last Blood isn't receiving the reception Sylvester Stallone might have expected for his possible farewell to the iconic title character. Critics and fans aren't taking well to the fifth installment of the long-running action franchise, with many believing it lost the essence of what made the once-compelling story of the Army veteran unable to leave his past behind.
However, while Last Blood might signal a disappointing end to a beloved series, as much as it doesn't fit the Rambo mold, it does feel very much like an Old Man Punisher story befitting the Marvel Universe.
In the film, Rambo attempts to live in peace on his Arizona ranch, only for his niece, Gabrielle, to be abducted in Mexico by a drug cartel to be turned into a sex slave. Rambo tracks down and rescues her, but Gabrielle nevertheless dies from a drug overdose. That leads to the explosive finale in which he wages war on the cartel, inviting them to his ranch to be slaughtered.
If you're familiar with Garth Ennis' Marvel MAX run on The Punisher, you'd recognize Last Blood's plot as similar to "The Slavers." In that five-issue arc, Frank Castle ran across a sex-trafficking ring and embarked on a one-man crusade against the gangs in New York responsible for killing the baby of Viorica, one of the women he rescued. Castle was a Vietnam vet in Ennis' story, just like Stallone's Rambo, and rather than killing for pleasure, it became a personal mission. Castle hated seeing girls used like that as that could have been his daughter and so, he eked out justice for the women, not for himself. Rambo follows a similar path in Last Blood, as he doesn't abide by duty or the American flag; he simply wants to liberate the slaves like Gabrielle.
Stallone's depiction here is similar to if Castle tried to retire after several wars, only to be pulled back in for one final mission of vengeance. As a result, Rambo effectively becomes a vigilante more than a veteran struggling with PTSD, and hunts those who endangered his loved ones, which is again a signature of the Punisher. Rather than make political statements, Rambo follows a Punisher route by laying traps, obsessed with torture and maiming his enemies in a most sadistic manner. So much so, all Rambo is missing this time in his old age is a skull emblem on his chest.
Ironically, we did get Old Man Punisher in Marvel's Old Man Logan, when Castled helped Logan kill the Punishers, gang that desecrated his name and murdered children. Frank slaughtered them to restore honor to his name, but the old soldier was killed in the process. Last Blood does follow a similar path, with Rambo eliminating the men who kidnapped the girls, and then seemingly dying in his rocking chair after succumbing to his wounds.
Ultimately, we're certain common themes here are pure coincidence, but it's difficult to deny Last Blood is a Ramb-meets-Punisher movie. And with the Netflix series canceled and the Marvel Cinematic Universe not looking to touch Frank's story for some time, Stallone's last hurrah (well, so we believe) as Rambo will have to suffice, allowing us to imagine what Old Man Punisher would do years down the line.
In theaters nationwide, director Adrian Grunberg's Rambo: Last Blood stars Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Yvette Monreal.