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Review: In 'Rambo: Last Blood,' Sylvester Stallone's action hero sets off on a personal mission, even as age creeps up

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

While some actors resist even playing the same type more than once, Sylvester Stallone has made a career out of, in effect, saying: "Bring it on."

He's portrayed one character, boxer Rocky Balboa, in eight films and counting, and he's taken on mercenary Barney Ross in a trio of "The Expendables" epics with a fourth in the works.

And then there is John Rambo.

Stallone has been playing the psychologically damaged Vietnam veteran with enviable combat skills for 37 years, and he's brought him back for a fifth outing in "Rambo: Last Blood."

After all these years, these characters function as kinds of alter egos for Stallone, and, questions of story aside, it's intriguing to watch them age both physically and psychologically as the actor does. (Stallone often writes these films as well.)

What that means for "Last Blood" is that while part of the film offers the expected, unsparingly violent action tropes typical of the series, there's another aspect to the story, a surprisingly brooding examination of a warrior in winter, a dark story of a berserker who can't let go, that's in its own way bleaker and more despairing than we may be expecting.

 

The John Rambo we meet, like the actor himself, is not the sleek killing machine of the previous films, visible in glimpses helpfully provided under "Last Blood's" closing credits. Rambo moves slowly these days, almost like his own ghost, the weight of years hanging over him and his craggy face looking increasingly suitable for Mt. Rushmore.

Sure, Rambo is convincing when he ends up telling bad people, "I'm gonna hurt you real bad," but there is also a kind of fragility that makes us worry about people putting the hurt on him.

The initial setting here is the horse ranch in Arizona hinted at a decade ago in the closing images of 2008's "Rambo," a place where, in an attempt to keep his raging PTSD in check, the man pops pills and has constructed an intricate system of tunnels he spends quality time in.

"I haven't changed," he says when asked.

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