Sylvester Stallone eviscerates a Mexican cartel in the gruesome revenge thriller, Rambo: Last Blood. The fifth installment in the franchise takes the Taken storyline and ramps up the savagery. We've seen similar plots countless times before, but not nearly as bleak or brutal. Rambo: Last Blood easily earns its hardcore merit badge. It will undoubtedly be criticized for stereotypical characters. That's fair to a point, but shouldn't be overstated. This is blunt force cinema with little subtext.

A decade after returning from Thailand, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) lives a quiet life on his family's ranch in rural Arizona. He raises his niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), with her grandmother (Adriana Barraza). Rambo trains horses and helps out local officials when needed. He's still a formidable tracker. Rambo cannot escape the Vietnam War. He digs a vast tunnel complex under the ranch.

On the verge of going to college, Gabrielle wants to know why her father abandoned her. Rambo warns her to stay away from him, but the naive girl must have an answer. She foolishly crosses the border into Mexico alone. Rambo becomes worried when Gabriel doesn't return home. His worst fears are realized. Gabrielle has become a victim of sex trafficking. She is a prisoner of ruthless drug lords (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Óscar Jaenada). Nothing will stop Rambo from getting his beloved niece back.

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The plot gets dark quickly. Rambo: Last Blood does not temper its treatment of Gabrielle. She walks into an obvious and predictably dangerous situation, but that doesn't make it less hard to see. Your blood boils as she and the other kidnapped women are violated. The revenge theme is solidly established. This allows the set-up for severe repercussions. Every Rambo film delivers justice to the evil antagonists. The cartel baddies pay for their sins with limbs and organs. When John Rambo says he's going to tear your heart out, that's a promise kept.

Every character in the film is essentially one-note. There's zero nuance or degrees of sophistication. Gabrielle is a lamb thrown to wolves. Her uncle is an unstoppable killer hellbent on vengeance. The Mexican cartel blurs into the same despicable goons. Rambo: Last Blood doesn't paint every Mexican as drug dealing human traffickers. Paz Vega co-stars as a Mexican journalist who helps Rambo. Should there have been additional characters to mitigate the portrayal of Mexican culture? Possibly, but this is a brainless action film. Rambo: Last Blood should not be a test in political correctness. The character has been a white knight savior since Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The final act of the film is pure carnage. I expected a big action scene, but was genuinely surprised by the gore. Rambo: Last Blood treads into grisly horror territory. It's all overblown, but entertaining in a twisted way. Fans of the franchise are paying to see Rambo mercilessly kick ass. You will get your money's worth here. It'll just be soaked in blood and guts. Stick around after the credits. Rambo: Last Blood is produced by Millennium Media and Balboa Productions with distribution from Lionsgate.

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Julian Roman