All five Rambo movies have strong political themes about how veterans deserve to be treated and various conflicts around the world, but Rambo: Last Blood takes this to its logical conclusion.
Starting with 1982’s First Blood, the Rambo film series is one of the most distinctly American franchises in cinema history.
Sylvester Stallone plays the title role and John Rambo is a disenfranchised veteran of the Vietnam War who finds himself a stranger in his own country in the wake of that controversial and tragic conflict.
The films have evolved from a post-war drama to a flashy action series and a straight-up war movie.
Through it all, Rambo has always been defined by its political awareness, leveraging on the lingering sentiment from the Vietnam War to elevate the story and themes of the films.
Stallone insists that Rambo is not intended to be a political statement but the movies speak for themselves, having strong political themes, though not of the recent “right wing/left wing” dichotomy that overwhelms today’s political discourse.
The latest instalment in the series, Rambo: Last Blood continues this proud tradition, using the history of its iconic character to elevate an admittedly sparse plot.
As Rambo: Last Blood brings the character’s journey to a close, we take a look at the politics of the movies, and how it confirms him as America’s Republican superhero.
The first film, First Blood is based on the 1972 novel by David Morrell. John Rambo is a PTSD-stricken Vietnam War veteran drifting across the country.
He is bullied by the sheriff of a small mountain town, himself a veteran of the Korean War.
Teasle mistakes Rambo for a hippie and winds up arresting the special forces specialist for vagrancy.
Rambo has a Vietnam flashback and completely snaps after the sheriff’s abusive deputies push Rambo too far and he beats up his captors and escapes to the forest.
Rambo and Teasle find themselves on a crash course, with Rambo unexpectedly rediscovering a righteous vigor and sense of purpose he had not felt since his Vietnam days.
Rambo is confronted by his old mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman at the end of First Blood. Trautman tries to get his pupil to lay down his weapons and surrender to the authorities.
Rambo delivers an epic monologue in response, one of the most famous of Stallone’s career.
“Back there, I could fly a gunship. I could drive a tank… Back here, I can’t even hold a job parking cars.”
His heartbreaking speech is meant to be a representative of the broad experiences of many Vietnam veterans who endured an unspeakable loss or killed for their country in those napalm-soaked jungles.
Like Rambo, they lost something in Vietnam that they would never get back once they returned to the normalcy of regular life.
The North Vietnamese Army captured American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Their captors tortured these prisoners of war or POWs and the treatment of POWs remains a controversial subject to this day.
Rambo himself was a POW in First Blood and was subjected to horrific torture in the hands of the NVA.
The plot of Rambo: First Blood Part II revolves around a prolific Vietnam rumour, that American POWs remained imprisoned by the military, their existence too controversial to be acknowledged by America, dirty reminders of a war the country was trying to forget.
In the movie, Rambo is offered a pardon for his rampage in First Blood in exchange for embarking on a solo infiltration mission to confirm the existence of POWs in Vietnam.
John Rambo, living near the border in Thailand, finds himself drawn into the conflict when he begrudgingly agrees to escort some Christian missionaries into a nearby Karen settlement on a humanitarian aid mission.
However, when the village is massacred and the missionaries are captured by the military, Rambo must lead a group of mercenaries into one of the most disturbingly violent battles ever captured on film.
In this time in his life, Rambo is bitter and jaded.
He’s turned his back on his country and ekes out a meagre existence for himself on his own terms.
At the end of the movie, he looks at the carnage he’s wreaked and the people he’s saved. At last, he decides it’s finally time to go home.
The film ends with a beautiful long shot of John walking down the long road towards his family’s farm in Arizona.
Rambo: Last Blood is the latest and possibly final film in the series.
Picking up a decade after the last film, Rambo is retired and living with an adopted family in his old family farm in Arizona, near the Mexican border.
Obviously, the political situation in the region is particularly heated in 2019, but Last Blood isn’t the “right wing propaganda” some were fearing it would be.
While the movie does deal with Rambo taking on a Mexican gang, Rambo’s adopted family are Mexican immigrants, and the Mexican gang aren’t defined by their Latino heritage.
The movie could be set pretty much anywhere and have the same story; it’s just a backdrop for the narrative.
By his nature, Rambo is a character who always finds himself dealing with the worst of any region he enters; just because he fought violently abusive cops and foolhardy national guard troops in First Blood doesn’t mean the film believes all cops are evil and all national guardsmen are dopey weekend soldiers.
Rambo: Last Blood comes to making an implied political statement has to do with the numerous border crossing scenes in the film.
First, a character is seen crossing through a regular checkpoint.
Later, Rambo is seen crossing by driving his car through a thin border fence, knocking the barrier aside with ease. The villains are seen crossing through an underground tunnel. We can see this, if the viewer so chooses, as an indictment of Trump’s proposed border wall; it would have done nothing to deter the villains who crossed underneath, but it would have hindered Rambo, who likely would not have been able to drive his truck through such a structure.
While they have always focused the entire series on the main character and his worldview, Rambo: Last Blood is the most personal John Rambo story since the original.
Rambo makes a note of his post-traumatic stress, and how he makes a concerted effort to “keep a lid on it every day.” When his family is endangered, the viewer gets to see exactly what Rambo is still capable of, even in his 70s. While Rambo: Last Blood isn’t as good as it could’ve been, it still makes its point: Rambo never forgot the skills he learned in Vietnam, and never shed the demons that followed him home after all those years.