Rambo: Last Blood

Another series that enjoys occasional resurgence (Rambo III was released 1998; Rambo IV, 2008), the trailer for Rambo V recently dropped and with it the use of a recent popular song that itself balances old and new with a judicious blend of hip hop and country. Throughout the trailer we hear a movie that celebrates what can be called at this point its heritage, while also serving the action and aesthetics of 2019.

After a whistled micro-teaser, the trailer opens with the recent Billboard hit “Old Town Road“ (Remix) by Lil Nas (and featuring Billy Ray Cyrus), which begins with a wordless gospel vocal motif put through an FM filter. It contrasts nicely with the narrator, who gravelly intones having “lived through a world of death.” 

The soft, pedal-chorded piano and rustic acoustic guitar arpeggiations paired with the scenery of an experienced lone wolf of a man navigating an expanse of sepia-toned wilderness reminds of the well-loved trailer for Logan, which used the celebrated Johnny Cash cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. 

The action picks up at 0:35 with Billy Ray Cyrus’ guest vocal, accompanying the visual of a man on horseback galloping along a corral. “I’m going to ride until I can’t no more,” Cyrus’ lyrics go, taking on the role of commentator on the narrative.

“The time has come to face my past,” Rambo says, as some new sound effects are layered on top of Cyrus’ whistling at about the halfway mark, while the date card drops (September). We get a dramatic pause at the minute mark, epic percussion ceasing with an array of guns pointed squarely at our protagonist. Notably, the card stating “they drew first blood” clearly references the first Rambo movie, known as “First Blood.”

At 1:14 there is a nice synch point that reflects the tension of Rambo’s pulled-back arrow with the music (“can’t no more”), and the subsequent re-entry of the beat with the massive explosion that ensues (likely a jump cut, unless the arrow hit an explosive).

A montage sequence follows with Nas singing over a smooth, driving beat, lending a sense of inevitability and propulsive action to the proceedings.

At 1:30 the music seems to recede to the distant background, emphasizing the dark intimacy of the last scene. Finally, when the main title card comes in at 1:40, the music reverts to the dulcet piano and whistling heard at the beginning of the trailer. 

In choosing “Old Town Road” and only lightly adding to it with the conventions of epic trailer music, we can hear that Rambo 5 is as much an exploration of the self and a life lived as it is another action-packed entry in the series.

— Curtis Perry