“I know how black a man’s heart can be,” mutters Sylvester Stallone’s ex-Green Beret in this fifth – and presumably final – Rambo adventure. Even kicking back on his Arizona family homestead (as glimpsed in the final shots of 2008’s Rambo), the PTSD sufferer is still armed to the teeth: crossbows, shotguns and knives adorn the walls like trophies.
Director Adrian Grünberg (How I Spent My Summer Vacation) attempts to steer the franchise back to the urban warfare Rambo waged in the original First Blood. Sadly, the script by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick doesn’t muster the same tension as that 1982 hit, which saw the Vietnam vet pushed to the limits and alienated by his own countrymen.
Here, Rambo simply wants revenge. His target: the Mexican cartel that kidnaps his niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), after she unwisely crosses the border to find her good-for-nothing father. “I want them to know that death is coming,” Rambo says, in a plot that has shades of Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here (Rambo even uses a claw-hammer to pulverise some bad guys).
There’s a muddy feel to the script. For instance, Rambo’s familial connection to Gabrielle: her mother, who died of cancer, is presumably his sister, but it’s never explicitly stated. And then there’s journalist Carmen (Paz Vega), whose own sister was taken by the ruthless Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada). Our hero petitions Carmen for help, but it’s left unclear how or even if she actually assists him.
Carmen aside, the film’s Mexicans are nearly all rapists, murderers, pimps and thieves (though, let’s face it, earlier instalments didn’t exactly paint the villains in three dimensions). But series fans will likely still root for Rambo, particularly when he lures his foes back across the border to take them down in a staggeringly violent finale. True, it’s hardly a surprising way to cap the franchise, but with Stallone on fine, grizzled form, neither does it embarrass the name of John Rambo.