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Rambo: Last Blood (Blu-ray) (2019)
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Details At A Glance
Featurette-From First Note To Last Blood
Year Of Production
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Roadshow Home Entertainment
Marco de la O
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Even for hardcore Rambo fans, the idea of a fifth instalment seemed excessive and unnecessary, given the note-perfect ending of 2008's Rambo which brings the titular character full circle. But co-writer and star Sylvester Stallone manages to do the impossible, cooking up a new story which meaningfully contributes to John Rambo's character arc and delivers the type of balls-to-the-wall, vicious mayhem that fans attend these motion pictures to witness. Rambo: Last Blood is a different type of Rambo movie, more solemn and character-focused, to the extent that some believe this should not be part of the series at all. However, with the weight of Rambo's history behind it, the material has more significance and context. Directed by newcomer Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo), perhaps the most refreshing thing about Last Blood is its unwillingness to force a political agenda or subscribe to ever-changing standards of political correctness, making it feel like a nasty, old-fashioned, manly revenge picture from the 1970s.
Peacefully living on his late father's ranch in rural Arizona, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Stallone) keeps his inner demons under control with pharmaceutical assistance, spending his days taking care of the property's horses as well as forging blades in his underground sanctuary. While he prefers solitude, Rambo maintains a close relationship with housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza), and serves as a guardian for her 18-year-old granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) who is about to leave for college. Curious about the world, Gabrielle tracks down her absentee father (Marco de la O) in Mexico, harbouring a desire to confront him about why he abandoned the family. Rambo is quick to dissuade the young woman, but she defies his advice, travelling south of the border only to become ensnared in a cartel sex trafficking ring run by Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and his hothead brother Victor (Óscar Jaenada). Rambo sets out to save his loved one without hesitation, awakening the dormant beast within himself as he navigates the violent city. Rambo's mission also attracts the attention of journalist Carmen (Paz Vega), who previously lost a loved one to the ruthless cartel's operation.
The previous sequels dropped Rambo into a real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines setting that is relevant to the era, such as Vietnam in Rambo: First Blood Part II, and the Burmese Civil War in 2008's Rambo. This fifth movie continues along the same lines, setting its sights on human trafficking and forced prostitution in Mexico, which is an ongoing international concern. At just over 100 minutes in length, Last Blood has sufficient narrative breathing room, with unhurried early scenes between Rambo and his de facto family before trouble strikes in Mexico, while the screenplay additionally explores the aging soldier's broken mental state at this point in his life. The underlying theme at play here is how someone like Rambo can attain peace after living in a self-described world of death, trying to stay in control as he attempts the serene family lifestyle, using the horses as therapy. To Rambo, who still suffers from PTSD, his underground tunnels represent a Minotaur's Labyrinth of madness and memories, sparking aggressive Vietnam flashbacks. By taking the fight underground, he harnesses the violent trauma associated with these tunnels to kill his enemies, giving more substance to the climax. Like the fourth Rambo film, it might seem like I am reading too much into Last Blood, but again, I believe the critics are not reading enough into it, or acknowledging the story's thematic foundation.
Written by Stallone and Matt Cirulnick, Last Blood does enough to build palpable relationships between the characters, creating a sense of humanity amid the chaos. Furthermore, it helps that the scenes between Rambo and Gabrielle feel genuine as opposed to perfunctory, including a standout moment in which Rambo delivers an emotional speech to his niece at the end of the second act. Now in his early 70s, Stallone confidently slips back into his iconic role, playing a world-weary Rambo who struggles to keep a lid on his animalistic instincts. Thankfully, the movie resists the temptation to give Rambo a younger protégé, with Last Blood remaining Stallone's show from start to end. Proficient support is provided by Monreal and Barraza, while Peris-Mencheta is a credible villain. Additionally, like the fourth film's depiction of Myanmar, the scenes involving violence and prostitution in Mexico are nihilistic and grim, making it all the more satisfying when Rambo finally unleashes hell upon the cartel army. However, one story element which feels short-changed is the subplot involving Carmen, while Gabrielle's father is oddly insignificant as well, though any further material involving either character would probably be too generic and slow down the narrative.
Last Blood adopts a stark tonal change, feeling more like Logan, Sicario or Unforgiven than the jingoistic, cheesy Regan-era Rambo sequels of the 1980s. Although Rambo does not hesitate to carry out violent acts, this follow-up is not as action-packed as its predecessors, with most of the carnage reserved for the big climax, which is perhaps the most vicious, violent set-piece of the series to date. First Blood memorably showed us Rambo's ingenuity with guerrilla warfare, but he refrained from actually killing, while the sequels involved Rambo being on the offensive as he wasted countless enemies with large weapons. In Last Blood, we finally get to see Rambo unleash his guerrilla training to kill, and it is truly a sight to behold. Under Grunberg's focused direction, the final ten minutes or so amount to a taut succession of gory slayings, showing that Rambo is still a relentless one-man force to be feared. Moreover, the R rating is pushed to its boundaries, showing the gory consequences of Rambo's traps as he becomes a slasher movie antagonist, swiftly moving around his tunnel network as he mercilessly slaughters the cartel intruders. When Rambo cuts loose, it's heart-pounding cinema, sure to provoke goosebumps and foot stomping. It is also more impactful directly because of the lengthy build-up preceding it. Meanwhile, Brian Tyler returns as composer, reusing a few recognisable cues and making astute use of the iconic Rambo theme. This is not Tyler at his best, but the music ramps up the intensity and underscores the emotion effectively.
Contrasted against the cheap, straight-to-video Escape Plan sequels, Rambo: Last Blood carries appreciable gravitas, while the story's execution is effectively sincere. It is a formulaic movie from a narrative standpoint, while villains are predictably cartoonish, but there are some unexpected plot developments which feel appropriate given the subject matter, and it creates a satisfying ending for Rambo nearly forty years after the release of First Blood. It is not on the same level as First Blood (not many movies are), and it lacks the urgency of the fourth instalment, but it still delivers the goods, even without Rambo's trademark long hair and bandana (and even with some mediocre digital effects). Be sure to stick around for the first part of the end credits, as it recaps the franchise and adds more to Last Blood's ending.
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The (presumably) final instalment in the Rambo film series arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Roadshow Entertainment, who have chosen to release the 101-minute extended international cut on disc (and via streaming). Further Blu-rays of the international cut are slated for release in territories like Germany and France, but Roadshow's disc might be the only English-friendly release of the longer cut - there is a considerable amount of Spanish dialogue, after all, and this disc contains burnt-in subtitles to translate said dialogue to English. Rambo: Last Blood is presented on Blu-ray in AVC-encoded 1080p, framed at its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Fortunately, Roadshow make use of a dual-layered BD-50, and almost all available disc space is used - consequently, the competent encode facilitates a spectacular average video bitrate approaching 33 Mbps, and the result is frequently pleasing. I checked the bitrate at various points throughout the movie, and it's almost always above the 30 Mbps mark, even reaching 40 Mbps at times. Naturally, the transfer lacks the definitive refinement afforded by a 4K encode with High Dynamic Range, but this is still an enormously satisfying presentation - the best possible presentation of the extended cut that's possible on regular old 1080p Blu-ray.
First things first, there are numerous technical shortcomings with Last Blood at the source level. Infrequent drone shots (see 33:00, 53:06, 75:37) stick out like a sore thumb, as they're riddled with aliasing and other artefacts. These shots looked poor in the cinema, and they still look poor on home video - there's only so much the encode can do. Additionally, instances of digital noise reduction were apparent in the cinema, and are translated to home video - DNR'd shots look smooth and somewhat smeary. Just see Gabrielle meeting with her father at the 26-minute mark, or smeary close-ups at 37:20 or 73:00; fine detail is smoothed over. It's a shame, too, because whenever source noise does creep in (see 46:32), it's nicely refined as opposed to blocky. And as a result, the DNR'd shots look all the more obvious. But with all this aside, Last Blood looks pretty d*** great on Blu-ray. The movie was shot digitally at 5K resolution and was completed at 4K; therefore, there is a tonne of fine detail to behold in the digital photography. For the most part, too, the transfer is pleasingly sharp. Close-ups frequently reveal every wrinkle and pore on Stallone's grizzled face, while facial hair is excellently resolved (see Gabrielle's father at 35:20). Hell, even the mild stubble on Stallone's face is apparent during close-ups at the 36-minute mark. Textures are apparent on clothes, brickwork, and landscapes, and such refinement scarcely falters no matter the lighting conditions. Indeed, even in the dimness of Rambo's tunnels, or on the dim, neon-soaked streets of Mexico, highlights and textures are pleasing.
The opening storm sequence, which was removed for the shorter cut (and is not included on the 4K disc as a result), looks gorgeous for the most part, with robust detailing and above-average sharpness despite the rough lighting conditions and heavy rainfall. A lick of HDR would improve it, sure, but it's still satisfying for a 1080p encode. As to be expected, some soft shots do sneak in, but again, this is a source issue. Also, some of the digital effects shots during the climax are soft and unrefined as hell, while distracting colour noise also sneaks in at times. Whereas source noise is unavoidable at times, colour noise is an operator issue. Luckily, shots like this are infrequent. It almost goes without saying, too, but the archival Vietnam footage at 10:15 is rough as hell, and this carries over to the Blu-ray. The only area where Last Blood's transfer could be improved is the colours. Skin tones occasionally look a bit strange (Gabrielle meeting her father, for instance), and the colour palette looks a tad muted at times - see the scenes on Rambo's ranch during daylight. Black levels are sufficient within the confines of a 1080p encode, but again a HDR grade would attain definitive inkiness. Still, contrast is often excellent - just see Rambo's confrontation with the cartel at the 46-minute mark, or virtually any scenes on the streets of Mexico.
I did notice a random instance of macroblocking at 70:51, at the bottom right of the screen, in some headlights, but this issue also occurs on the 4K Blu-ray, so it's ostensibly a source issue. I also detected some occasional banding in the lights attached to the cartel's rifles during the climax, but again this is equally noticeable in the 4K presentation. It almost goes without saying, but highlights are sometimes lost when harsh light sources are on-screen, but that's par for the course with 1080p. I was unable to detect any real shortcomings with Roadshow's encode - aside from the aforementioned source-related flaws, there are no other instances of aliasing, macroblocking, or even crush, even when large sections of the film occur in darkness. I'd love to have the extended cut of Rambo: Last Blood on 4K, but until a viable option comes along, I'm happy to live with Roadshow's superb Blu-ray, which should please fans and videophiles alike.
English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available. I had no issues with the well-formatted track.
Video Ratings Summary
The disc's sole audio option is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which is a disappointing but predictable downgrade from the Dolby Atmos mix provided on the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc. Audiophiles are destined to cry foul, but I honestly have no valid criticisms for this 5.1 track - it's robust, crystal clear, and loaded with surround activity, plus it packs an incredible punch on the subwoofer front. The opening storm sequence is lively and loud, with impactful sounds of rain and thunder filling all available channels. Atmospherics are frequent throughout the movie, from the sounds of wind during external shots of Rambo's ranch, to the lively hustle and bustle of the Mexico streets - not a single scene feels limp or underwhelming. Tyler's original score also pushes to the rear channels and comes through with pristine clarity. When Rambo plays The Doors' "Five to One" during the climax, panning and separation effects are evident, creating an immersive soundscape to make you feel in the thick of the action. Even banal sound effects like Rambo hammering pieces of metal, or the subtle roar of car engines, are impactful, thanks to smart subwoofer use and low-frequency effects.
When the climactic action scene arrives, not a single frame is disappointing on the audio front. The massive explosion at 77:30 is deafening, while LFE positively made my walls shake. Likewise, you'll be able to feel the impact of Rambo's shotgun and his arrow-firing contraption. Every single burst of automatic gunfire from the cartel packs a serious punch, sounding crisp and deafening. Everything, from the claymore explosion in the tunnels, to Rambo's use of explosive rounds, sounds precisely as it should, and there's no neutering of the audio mix to be found. Dialogue is admittedly on the soft side from time to time, but it's still comprehensible, and never gets detrimentally drowned out by sound effects or music. I know I'm supposed to criticise this audio track because it's 5.1 instead of Atmos, but it sounds excellent, and I would have assumed it was Atmos if I didn't already watch the disc with pre-existing knowledge of the track. Last Blood sounds exceptional on Blu-ray.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Over an hour of meaty behind-the-scenes featurettes are included, which are insightful and informative, as opposed to fluffy. The lack of an audio commentary is disappointing. Before the main menu, there's an advertisement about the Australian Film Industry. The main menu itself is static, with no music.
Intro (HD; 1:31) Stallone talks about his philosophical approach to the movie, set to a succession of behind-the-scenes footage.
New Blood (HD; 7:34) Created by veteran documentarian Cliff Stephenson, this first production diary featurette contains a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage, which reveals the scenes that were shot during the first week of production in October, 2018. The on-set footage is accompanied with voiceovers featuring comments from Stallone, Grunberg, and producers Kevin King Templeton and Les Weldon. The commentators go over bringing Grunberg onto the project (Templeton mentions that he and Sly liked Get the Gringo), the approach to the production, and locations used to double for Mexico, among other things.
Something To Fight For (HD; 6:27) Featuring on-set footage from the second week of production, this featurette covers the real-world implications of the sex trafficking world, which is an ongoing concern in Mexico. Stallone, Grunberg, as well as actors Yvette Monreal and Paz Vega provide voiceovers which accompany the extensive behind-the-scenes footage.
Heaven Above Hell Below (HD; 13:16) Week three of production switches to Rambo's Arizona ranch. Several commentators, including Grunberg and production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone, discuss the process of scouting locations in both Bulgaria and the Canary Islands, and subsequently constructing the ranch (as well as the extensive tunnels) from scratch in a short period of time.
Forged In Hellfire (HD; 13:00) Now we get to the fun part: the action. Chronicling week four of the shoot, which stretches into November of 2018, this production diary looks at Rambo's underground knife-forging, as well as his preparation and execution of the tunnel ambush. The behind-the-scenes footage is excellent, showing the extent of the practical effects (including practical blood squibs) as well as how moments like the heart rip were filmed. Second unit director Vern Nobles is also on hand for insightful comments. If anything, this one is too short - I wish it was twice as long.
Nothing Is Over (HD; 8:31) This final production diary featurette covers the legacy of the Rambo character, and closing the franchise. The cast and crew all seem proud of their efforts, and Stallone has much to say about the film's emotionality. Those who've dismissed the movie might get another perspective after watching these behind-the-scenes featurettes.
From First Note To Last Blood (HD; 17:20) The final featurette on this disc concentrates on the original score, composed by Brian Tyler. This amounts to an extended interview with Tyler in his studio, who talks us through his Last Blood compositions, including how he harkened back to the previous Rambo he composed for, and paid homage to Jerry Goldsmith.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
The Region A Blu-ray from Lionsgate carries the same supplemental features, a Dolby Atmos track, and the truncated cut. I'm sure some people will prefer the Atmos track, but the longer cut on Roadshow's edition makes this the winner. Roadshow's video bitrate is also higher.
It took a beating from the critics, and didn't exactly light the box office on fire, but for my money, Rambo: Last Blood is a solid revenge movie that's worth watching for Rambo fans and genre enthusiasts alike. It's nasty and violent as hell, but there's also more heart and effort than the usual B-movie.
Last Blood looks and sounds superb on Blu-ray, with a few minor caveats. Meanwhile, there is over an hour of insightful behind-the-scenes extras that fans should definitely check out. I wish there was a commentary as well, but I'll take what we have. Recommended.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Friday, December 27, 2019
|DVD||Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|