After spending his life shedding blood across the world — Vietnam, the U.S., Afghanistan, Thailand, Burma — you might forgive old John J. Rambo for following a peaceful path as a rancher, working the land in Arizona. Why not? He deserves a break from violence, and besides, he looks great in cowboy duds.
But action franchises gotta action franchise, and action heroes gotta save the day, so here’s Rambo V, the fifth chapter in the Rambo movie series, engineering an excuse to get John back into fighting shape once more. Heroes deserve a proper retirement, but American moviegoers can’t let our nostalgic faves take a break.
The release date is slated for 2019.
For Rambo fans, or all-around Sylvester Stallone fans, the recent spate of Rambo 5 news may come as a shock. Having spent the better part of the last two decades trading on his ’80s action star image — appearing in the Expendables films, Bullet to the Head, Escape Plan, and 2008’s Rambo — Stallone circled back toward respectability in 2015’s Creed, reprising his most famous role, Rocky Balboa, in Ryan Coogler’s Rocky spin-off (and sequel to 2006’s Rocky Balboa). Creed earned Stallone his third Academy Award nomination, his first since the original Rocky in 1976; you’d maybe expect him to try for a fourth by sticking with Rocky as he shuffles through the late stages of his career.
You’d be wrong. Stallone’s appearing in Creed II in November, and he’s currently at work on Rambo V (subtitle: Last Blood), shooting in Bulgaria and Spain. (He’s also making a third Escape Plan movie with Dave Bautista, but that feels less exciting.) Oddly enough, neither shooting location is Arizona, where the 2008 film left John off, or Mexico, which is where the story’s taking him. Having walked away from the soldier’s life in Rambo, Rambo V will see John getting back what he does best, namely indiscriminately killing bad guys who threaten good people.
“Bad guys” here means “Mexican sex traffickers slash cartels,” 2018’s action movie bad guys du jour. (See: Peppermint.) Per the synopsis, “When longtime family friend and estate manager Maria informs Rambo that her granddaughter has gone missing after crossing into Mexico for a party, he sets off with her to find the youngster. What ensues is a violent descent into hell as Rambo uncovers a sex-trafficking ring. He teams up with a journalist whose half-sister has also been kidnapped and must deploy all his skills to save the girls and bring down a vicious crime lord.”
Who’s in the Rambo 5 cast?
Paz Vega plays the journalist; Yvette Monreal plays her half-sister; Adriana Barraza plays Maria; Sergio Peris-Mencheta plays the vicious crime lord. Adrian Grunberg will direct.
Further specifics aren’t yet available, though we have these behind-the-scenes photos from Stallone’s Instagram feed to make up for that. Here’s Rambo garbed in the style of a 1970s Western protagonist:
Rambo in a rain slicker riding on horseback:
Rambo in the rain again (in what Stallone describes as an “extraordinary scene”):
Rambo sitting in his man cave and looking profoundly sad:
And of course, a modest hunting knife (though Rambo’s apparently making a bigger one):
How will Rambo 5 stack up?
The basic structure of Rambo V is perfectly Rambo, and the choice in villain is perfectly “American action film,” because American action films have a way of picking heavies based on whatever foreign countries the U.S. has political friction with at the time of production.
But John Rambo tends to fight for the disenfranchised or the neglected, and he tends to fight reluctantly. If Rambo V wants to layer that structure with a topical issue, so be it, though frankly it’d be more interesting to see Farmer Rambo take issue with tariffs or climate change denial and get back to defying the establishment like he used to. (It’d certainly be more satisfying. Rambo ‘08 is a film of gory delights, but “strong white guy takes out scores of brown people” is an overtired and thunderously dull genre cliche.)
Maybe, post-Creed, Stallone will do with Rambo what he did with Rocky, and play him as a character rather than as a caricature. There’s distinct pleasure to gain from watching Stallone give his characters a foundation and respect their humanity. Using one of the great American genres, the Western, as Rambo V’s backdrop might encourage that kind of performance. And if not, well…he’ll always have Creed.