What a long way has Rambo traveled since the First Blood (dir. Ted Kotcheff, 1982) – in the original movie, the hero was fighting with the local justice system dressed in brown shirts, overworking post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from the Vietnam War. Then (Rambo II, in which James Cameron was involved), wanting or not, he became a pawn of the same system he had previously fought. And then it became much worse. In the third installment (Rambo III, dir. Peter MacDonald, 1988) Rambo was no longer just a puppet, but also a conscious militant fighting on the side of an not-anymore-hostile system. The next part is a short break to defend Christian values (John Rambo, dir. Sylvester Stallone 2008), gently announcing what may happen in the future if the course does not change.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. Rambo remains, of course, a great, undemanding entertainment. The problem is that the further into the forest (jungle), the harder it is to swallow the bitter taste of ideology. Well, one has to admit that something is wrong here. How a person struggling with the fascist sheriff’s office can suddenly turn towards the elimination of a foreign element – and on top of that in a foreign yard. How someone who suffered Vietnamese atrocities can carelessly (okay, we have Vietnamese flashbacks, only if it is reliving trauma, and how much joy at killing?) eliminate Afghans and Burmese – even with a “good” reason?
I think the answer can be found in the last installment of the series. Adrian Grunberg’s Rambo: The Last Blood suggests a certain terminality, as if it were to be a movie crowning the series. In fact, you cannot see the packed veteran’s figure depleting in any way. Admittedly, the 73-year-old Stallone, with bulging eyes and a not-so-aesthetic face, looks extremely charismatic.
The problem is that we hardly find the original Rambo in Rambo. In the fifth installment of the series, the icon of the male action cinema serves for the presentation of a white-American male face. And this is a face from the American South. Rambo lives on a ranch, looks after the horses, wearing a cowboy hat. He also takes care of his foster daughter.
When the latter is kidnapped by the Mexican cartel, the conflict becomes clear. Here Rambo will become a self-proclaimed guardian of the border between civilized States and wild Mexico. The last part of the series in this sense is a screen adaptation of one of the postulates of Trump’s presidential campaign from 4 years ago –Rambo is a wall that protects white civilization from external pressure.
Rambo: The Last Blood does not work well as an action movie. Without exerting too much, one could cut the film to about 20 minutes. We already know how it will end – why should we be bored for over an hour looking at the republican morality and waiting for a bloody climax?
The difference between the sharp, negative reception of critics and the admiration of the fans of the series is terrifying. One would like to research about who exactly watches Rambo with adoration. It’s hard to say if the results would show a relationship between fans and quasi-subculture of incels. Anyway, the figure created by Stallone seems to require solid research, confirming the thesis that cinema for the masses can tell us a lot about contemporary culture.