“Last Knights,” the new feudal lord drama starring Morgan Freeman and Clive “The man who might have been Bond” Owen, is set in the manly world of honour, loyalty and revenge. It plays a bit like “Game of Thrones,” but without the dragons or the nudity.
At the heart of “Last Knights”—and no, this isn’t another of Freeman’s “Last Vegas” old geezer on the town movies—is the relationship between Lord Bartok (Freeman), a nobleman tired of paying exorbitant taxes to the Emperor’s (Peyman Moaadi) ambitious and greedy first minister Gezza Mott (Aksel Hennie), and warrior Raiden (Owen). The soldier isn’t just hired muscle, he’s a trusted confidant and extremely loyal. When a double-cross forces Raiden to perform an unthinkable act, the kingdom is thrown into chaos until the inevitable revenge plot kicks into action.
From Morgan Freeman’s majestic opening narration to the pounding score and wild swordplay, the first moments of “Last Knights” are ID. That’s Incredibly Dramatic in bolded, capital letters with a flourish of calligraphy thrown in for good measure. It sets the slightly over-the-top tone for the rest of the film, but despite some wild performances—I’m looking at you Hennie—a “Rambo” inspired action sequence and a beheading or two, director Kaz I Kiriya’s deliberate pacing eats into the theatrics. Couple that with a long mid-movie stretch that sets up the climatic battle but actually sucks the guts out of thirty minutes of running time, and you’re left with a film with expertly staged sword fights, suitable grimy warriors and a paranoid and dangerous villain, but not as much entertainment value as the opening promises.
It’s been twenty years since Sylvester Stallone last played Jonathon James Rambo, a rogue warrior so tough he combed his hair with barbed wire. In just three films this guy made those other 80s action icons, Bruce and Arnold, look like another 80s icon—Pee Wee Herman.
While other 80s stars like Frogger and the Where’s the Beef lady are now long distant nostalgic memories Rambo, true to character, refused to disappear quietly.
Despite there being no new Rambo movies for two decades, the name has been in almost continuous use both as a noun and a verb. The character has been parodied on film in Hot Shots! Part Deux, paid tribute to in a video game called Ikari Warriors, name checked in the Nicolas Cage film Lord of War (a character wants to buy “the gun of Rambo,” referring to the M60 and Cage asks “Part one, two, or three?”) and appears in the alternate history novel Back in the USSA by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman.
As a verb the phrase “Going Rambo” has come to refer to anyone who takes on a fight with little or no regard for their own personal safety.
Pop culture has had a hard time letting go of Rambo, and so it seems, has Sylvester Stallone, who at the age of 61 has donned Rambo’s trademark bandana one more time to bring justice to a world gone mad.
John J. Rambo (Stallone) now lives in northern Thailand, retired from the army, eking out a living running a longboat on the Salween River and catching poisonous snakes to sell. He leads a solitary life, leaving the violence of his past where it belongs—in his past.
His quiet life is interrupted when a group of Christian aid workers led by Sarah (Dexter’s Julie Benz) and Michael Bernett (Paul Schulze) recruit him as a guide to deliver medical supplies to the Karen tribe on the nearby Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border where the world’s longest-running civil war, the Burmese-Karen conflict, has been raging for 60 years.
“Burma’s a war zone. Its suicide,” Rambo tells the missionary, urging the group not to go.
“More like genocide.” Michael says gravely.
Reluctantly Rambo drops them in the war torn country and returns to Thailand, but when they fail to return he is talked into taking a group of mercenaries back into the border region to find the lost missionaries. Rambo is conflicted about the mission, as his new life style requires he have the utmost respect for human life—unless, of course, it gets in his way.
If you like the Rambo of old, you’ll like this new one because nothing much has changed in the years since we saw him last. In fact, other than a few wrinkles on Sly’s face, it’s as though the movie has magically teleported itself to our screens from the mid-80s. He’s still a rootin’, tootin’ killing machine who cuts, dices, kicks, spindles, mutilates, stabs, shoots, punctures, chokes, blows up, punches, shreds, head butts, pummels, thumps, harpoons, jabs, machine guns, bashes, runs through and generally does damage to a whole lot of bad guys.
The body count in Rambo (apparently one person is killed every 2.59 minutes) easily eclipses the 108 deaths in Rambo III, which earned it a Guinness Book of World Records title for Most Violent Movie Ever. It’s so high I would guess MIT professors had to be called in to create a new number to represent the carnage left in Rambo’s wake.
So, unless you date’s name is Rambina, this is most definitely not a date movie. Blood and guts splatter the screen and stoic Stallone delivers lines like, “Live for nothing, or die for something,” with his usual heavy-lidded comic book gravitas. It’s not exactly cuddly, but that’s what movies like 27 Dresses and the like are for.
Rambo isn’t for everyone, but its monosyllabic charm should appeal to anyone who likes straight up genre pictures with all the subtlety of a punch to the head.