Rambo: Last Blood — a Movie for Dads and Sons?
Goaded by reports that critics were savaging the movie as Neanderthal, xenophobic, Trump-affiliated garbage, to the point of publishing spoilers about the ending, I decided to go support the new Sylvester Stallone movie, Rambo: Last Blood. And I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Can I recommend it, however? Did I like it for good reasons or bad ones?
The movie is part of a franchise built on bloody, vigilante revenge. That’s not as redemptive as the last two films I recommended here. (Brian Banks, an uplifting story of a young black man falsely convicted of rape, and Peanut Butter Falcon, a delightful buddy movie which stars a young actor with Down Syndrome.) Let’s admit that right off the bat.
But you don’t always need an uplifting or heartwarming movie. Sometimes your heart, battered by seeing so many evils on the news, craves a different medicine. And Stallone here offers a tincture which in safe doses, rightly applied, can serve a legitimate purpose.
Rescuing a Teen from Sex Traffickers
A quick synopsis: John Rambo, who suffered PTSD fighting in Vietnam (and has conducted bloody raids to rescue Americans both there and in Afghanistan) has retired in Arizona. He lives there on a ranch he runs with an elderly Latina friend (Maria Beltran), and her granddaughter (Gabrielle). Gabrielle’s mother has died, and her father abandoned the family, going back to Mexico. John and Gabrielle have a sweet, respectful father/daughter-style bond. Gabrielle just finished high school, and prepares to go off to college. John’s deeply proud of her, and glad that something good has emerged from his blood-soaked life.
Gabrielle’s about to head off and launch a new life of her own. But then she hears through the grapevine that a friend now in Mexico has located her father. The man who dumped her and her mom. The person whose rejection has haunted her young life. So against her grandmother’s pleading and John’s firm advice, she heads off alone in a car. At 17 years old. To Mexico.
Things go downhill fast from there. Gabrielle quickly falls into the hands of sex traffickers, and John embarks on a quest to save her and punish her captors. They’re genuine, terrible bad guys, of the kind who rape (according to some estimates) 80 percent of the women and girls who enter the U.S. illegally.
And John Rambo? He specializes in hunting and killing that kind of villain, even at his advanced age. Mayhem ensues. Gory, vindictive, viscerally satisfying retribution. Any normal person will enjoy it. But if he’s a person of faith, maybe he’ll wonder whether he should.
You’ll Enjoy the Movie, but Should You?
Instead of a pointy-headed essay, let me examine that question in the form it might really arise. The following dialogue might well ensue between a father and his teenage son. They went to the movie together, and now as believers assess its merits. Let’s call them Patrick (dad) and Aidan (son). They’re driving home from the theater.
PATRICK: Well that certainly wasn’t dull. Pretty violent. I guess I’d forgotten what the first Rambo movies were like.
AIDAN: Yes, it was good. Dang that ending was satisfying. The way Rambo killed the last bad guy? That was—
PATRICK: Too much?
AIDAN: Too quick! After all he did to those girls, making them sex slaves addicted to drugs? I wanted to see him suffer. Don’t you think he deserved it?
PATRICK: Oh yes. He deserved a lot more than that, and I don’t think he was repentant. So after he died I imagine he would get it. Good and hard, and forever. But is it for us as humans to dish that out?
AIDAN: What choice did Rambo have? What was he going to do, call the Mexican police? The cartels own half the cops down there, don’t they?
PATRICK: Indeed they do. And the honest cops get gunned down, or live in fear. Honest judges, prosecutors, and major political candidates. Priests, even bishops get mowed down by those cartels.
AIDAN: What is wrong with those people?
PATRICK: Nothing, as people. They’re trapped in the legacy of hundreds of years of toxic politics. Remember I always say that ideas have consequences? One set of political ideas will give you Mexico. Another, the US of A.
AIDAN: Didn’t you say that those cartels control our borders, instead of the government?
PATRICK: Yes, the Democrats think it’s safer that way.
AIDAN: Unbelievable. I can’t wait to vote.
PATRICK: Don’t be too eager, Pat. Remember what comes with voting … jury duty.
AIDAN: Ha ha, totally worth it. Right? I mean, it’s worth registering even though it will get you jury duty?
PATRICK: I certainly hope so. Sometimes I wonder, though.
AIDAN: I mean if your whole system is in chaos, don’t you have to take justice into your own hands?
PATRICK: I imagine the system would have to be pretty bad, before that. But yes. We have the basic right to defend ourselves and our loved ones. That comes from God, not the government. We contract that right to the government, because everyone’s safer if impartial judges and juries full of ordinary citizens are deciding if people are guilty. Instead of, you know, Sylvester Stallone playing judge, jury, and executioner. That’s a sign that the system has failed, that we’re lurching toward total chaos. Because what if he’s wrong? Then the guy with the most gunmen and henchmen rules everything. You know, like in much of Mexico.
AIDAN: One of the nuns at school said we shouldn’t ever be glad when someone goes to prison, or especially gets executed. In fact, I heard that years back when Seal Team Six got Osama bin Laden, and the class was really psyched about it, she yelled at them all. Told them they weren’t real Christians, made them all sit in silence for half an hour with their hands on their desks. So of course, they all totally hated her after that. I mean, that’s not what we have to believe, is it? If that’s what turning the other cheek means, I’m not interested.
PATRICK: No, that’s nonsense. If Christianity taught that, it wouldn’t be true. It would mean God made us with obligations to pursue justice and defend the weak. Even planted in us the powerful drive to do that. But then made it a sin, and told us to leave them defenseless. And feel all good about ourselves while we let them suffer.
We aren’t supposed to turn someone else’s other cheek. Your grandpa didn’t send Hitler a strongly worded note. He fought under General Patton, and rode in there on a tank. I think Jesus approved, don’t you?
We can hate what people do, and even decide it’s necessary to remove them from this earth. The state is the “legitimate avenger of crime,” according to the Council of Trent. But we don’t hate people, really hate them, by wanting them to go to hell. We have to pray for everyone, hope everyone repents in the end. However unlikely that seems.
Is this the same nun who hung a rainbow flag in the classroom? Yeah, I figured. What a waste of a polyester pants suit.
AIDAN: Didn’t Pope Francis say that the death penalty is wrong, and always has been?
PATRICK: Oh yes. He went further, and said that life imprisonment is wrong as well.
AIDAN: That’s total B.S., isn’t it?
PATRICK: Unless God lied to Noah, when He demanded capital punishment, and Christians have been toddling along approving of something evil for the whole history of the Church. Until just this one pope steps up and announces, “The Bible said unto you X, but I say unto you Y.”
AIDAN: But that’s what Jesus said, about some stuff Moses had taught.
AIDAN: But he was God. The same God as the Father. He could totally correct Moses’ teaching. Or refine it. The pope’s not God. And the Church up till now wasn’t a bunch of Pharisees, waiting for a new, upgraded, liberal “Jesus.”
PATRICK: Go tell the pope that, Aidan. I’ll get you a ticket to Italy. But not to Mexico.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream, and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration.