Rambo: Last Blood is a disappointing final chapter for the franchise but an early draft shows how the movie could have been much better.

Rambo: Last Blood is set to be the character’s final chapter, but an earlier draft shows the story could have been much better. Rocky and Rambo are the two characters that define Sylvester Stallone’s career, and they’ve evolved in interesting ways. Stallone both wrote and starred in Rocky which launched his career, but it wasn’t until the success of 1982’s First Blood – where he was the eleventh choice for the lead – that he became a true movie star.

When his career was riding high during the 1980s both franchises became more bombastic and glossy, with Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II becoming giant spectacles. When his star faded somewhat in the 2000s he resurrected both series with more soulful, reflective sequels Rocky Balboa and 2008’s Rambo. Now, it appears Stallone is ready to hang up the gloves and bandana for good, announcing Creed II and Rambo: Last Blood will be his final time playing both characters.

He’s said that before – more than once – so time will tell if he sticks to that vow. Whereas Creed II received good reviews and provided Rocky with a fitting ending, Rambo: Last Blood hasn’t been received nearly as well. Many critics feel the fifth outing is a cheap, violent remake of Taken that happens to feature a character named Rambo. The paper-thin plot is also an issue but an early draft reveals it once more fleshed out.

The Previous Unused Rambo V Concepts

Rambo: Last Blood's Story Was A Lot Better In Early Leaks
Rambo: Last Blood’s Story Was A Lot Better In Early Leaks

Rambo proved a solid hit in 2008, but in spite of its hopeful ending – where Rambo returns home after decades in self-imposed exile – it seemed Stallone was eager to dive right back in. Instead of returning to another war zone, the star was eager to bring the character into a new genre – namely, a monster movie. This first idea was dubbed Rambo V: The Savage Hunt, which would have found the title character tasked by the government to hunt and kill a monster stalking facilities around the Arctic circle.

The Savage Hunt was based on horror novel Hunter by James Byron Huggins. The book centers on Nathaniel Hunter, the world’s greatest tracker, and Stallone intended to swap out Hunter with Rambo. The story finds Hunter teamed with hardened mercenaries to take down a bulletproof, seemingly unkillable beast. It appears Stallone was less interested in having Rambo punching a monster then using this rage-filled, savage creature to explore Rambo’s own inner id. This idea didn’t last long as howls of derision about the concept from fans caused Stallone to drop it.

Stallone later collaborated with David Morrell – author of First Blood – on another idea for Rambo V. This was in 2015 when the star was coming off the back of acclaim for Creed and was seeking to create a ‘soulful journey’ for Rambo’s final outing. Sadly, Morrell has never elaborated on what this concept was, but when it was rejected by producers, Stallone stated in 2016 he was retiring from the role. He later backed down from this claim, returning to the idea of Rambo going on a rescue mission to Mexico, a concept that had been floating around for years.

An Early Draft Of Rambo: Last Blood Fleshed Out The Story

Rambo: Last Blood's Story Was A Lot Better In Early Leaks
Rambo: Last Blood’s Story Was A Lot Better In Early Leaks

In November 2018 Splash Report released a synopsis for Rambo: Last Blood, but it wasn’t known how accurate this script breakdown was. It turns out it was close to the final film, though rewrites and editing would pare down much of this draft’s dramatic meat. This script by Matt Cirulnick opened with journalist Carmen – played by Paz Vega (The OA) – and her 8-year old sister Melissa walking down a street when Mexican gangsters snatch them. Carmen wrestles free and escapes but Melissa is taken.

This Rambo: Last Blood draft then shows the war hero on his farm, and like the final film he has a housekeeper named Maria. Unlike the movie, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal, The Fosters) is Maria’s daughter, not her granddaughter. Rambo is also shown to drink in local bars to cope with his PTSD. Gabriella heads to Mexico to confront her estranged father in the movie, but in this script, she’s simply taken after a night out with friends.

Rambo learns she was taken by a sex trafficker and sold to a cartel, but after tracking down and launching a failed rescue, he’s cornered by the men of cartel boss Hugo Martinez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta). Rambo proclaims he can kill ten men in hand to hand combat, so Hugo states he’ll let him go if he proves it. While he succeeds in killing a few of them he’s soon overpowered and beaten almost to death.

Rambo awakens to find he was rescued by Carmen. In the Rambo: Last Blood movie he’s bedridden for four days but in this script it takes three full weeks for him to recover. Carmen agrees to help him in revenge for her sister’s death and they track down the cartel’s accountant. They torture him for information and Carmen finds evidence on his computer that will help law enforcement tackle the sex trafficking operation. Rambo then heads alone to a port to save Gabriella from being shipped off in a submarine, but despite his best efforts she’s shot and killed. The rest of this draft is almost identical to the movie, with Rambo killing Hugo’s brother and then luring him into an ambush on his farm, but with the additional aid of remote control machine guns. It also gives Hugo an arguably more gruesome demise; instead of pining him with arrows and cutting his heart out, Rambo rips his neck and spine out, Predator-style.

Why This Rambo: Last Blood Draft Was Better

Rambo: Last Blood's Story Was A Lot Better In Early Leaks
Rambo: Last Blood’s Story Was A Lot Better In Early Leaks

While Rambo: Last Blood functions as a gory b-movie, it doesn’t feel like a respectful final battle for the iconic hero. It’s a nihilistic, hollow revenge flick with an admittedly strong performance by Sylvester Stallone, but it wasn’t worth trading the perfect ending of the fourth movie for. A big issue is Last Blood is edited way too tight, which doesn’t allow time for character development. For example, in the earlier draft, journalist Carmen has a role to play beyond saving Rambo and spouting exposition. The movie opens on the trauma of seeing her sister kidnapped and Carmen plays an active role in helping Rambo destroy the cartel. When she accesses the cartel accountant’s laptop she can use the information to expose their activities, giving her an actual arc.

In the final version of Rambo: Last Blood she’s stripped down to a plot function. The scene where Rambo is beaten is more poignant too, where he defiantly states he can take on attackers with his bare hands, only to learn age has weathered his once unbeatable combat skills. Some of the movie’s changes were for the best, condensing setpieces and exposition and giving Gabriella a more emotional reason to go to Mexico, but whereas 2008’s Rambo benefitted from its relentless pace, Rambo: Last Blood needed more time to breathe. This is a story about a man reflecting on his violent past and when his only family is torn away, he reverts to the beast within to seek revenge.

That sadness is there in Stallone’s performance, but Rambo: Last Blood is in too much of a rush to get to the gore that it speeds past this. The filmmakers even cut a filmed ten-minute opening sequence where Rambo tries to rescue some stranded hikers from a flood, but when he only manages to save one of them, his survivors guilt flares up. This film was supposed to be the Unforgiven or Logan of the franchise; instead, it’s the Death Wish 5: The Face Of Death, a serviceable piece of action fluff that is nobody’s favorite entry.