Movie Review: Rambo
By Matthew Huntley
March 23, 2008
After sitting through Sylvester Stallone's Rambo, the fourth and presumably last installment of the faded action series, I wondered how I could possibly enjoy a movie like this. As someone who abhors violence as a way of resolving conflict, at least when there other options available (and there usually are), how could I have a fun watching a movie where bodies are blown up, sliced in half, disemboweled and/or mangled to no end? I'm not exactly sure, but I did.
Maybe it's because, at my most fundamental level, I'm an animal fighting to survive, and watching other humans engage in battle appealed to my most primitive instincts. Or maybe it's because I'm inclined to want to see Good triumph over Evil, and this movie definitely lets us know who's who. And still, maybe it's because, on a more dimwitted level, watching silly, excessive violence is fun. It doesn't teach me anything or represent any kind of profundity, but it brings out the boy in me who loves playing video games like Soul Calibur, and the boy who once pretended he was Rambo (I remember tying a red headband around my forehead and using a broken broomstick like it was a bow and arrow). So for me, my moderate admiration for Rambo stems partly from nostalgia.
When rumors surfaced that Sylvester Stallone was gearing up to make another Rambo picture, I thought, as most people probably did, you've got to be kidding? First Stallone resurrects Rocky Balboa after a 16-year hiatus, albeit quite well, but Rambo? Twenty years after the last one? What, would John Rambo, the fearless Vietnam War vet, be fighting bad guys from a retirement home?
Well, maybe not a retirement home, but Rambo (Stallone) certainly appears retired. As a large, brooding, miserable man, Rambo lives in a remote Thai village and makes a living gathering cobras for the local snake fighting circuit. He's still haunted by his days as a Vietnam soldier, whose memories of the war have cursed him into a life of nightmares and solitude.
One day, he's asked by a couple missionaries, Michael (Paul Schulze) and Sarah (Julie Benz), to take their group up the river to Burma so they can help the local Karen tribe. They group wants to make a difference for the people suffering during the country's civil war. Rambo asks them if they're bringing weapons, and when they say no, he responds, "You're not going to change anything." Burma is now a war zone and the Karen people are being killed daily by the Burmese Army. At first, Rambo refuses to help, but Sarah's determination changes his mind.
Of course, the missionaries are later attacked and taken prisoner. Their pastor (Ken Howard) pleas with Rambo to take a group of mercenaries into Burma to rescue them.
I've seen a lot of violent movies in my day, but none so ridiculously extreme as this. If you are turned off by violence, Rambo isn't for you. But if you're like me, and will take it all as harmless amusement, you'll have little cause for complaint. I kind of admire Stallone for his unabashed techniques and the way he goes to town with the violence. It's cartoonish and video gamey the way men are killed and I wouldn't have been a bit surprised to see a score being kept in the right hand corner of the screen.
Having never actually been in a war zone myself, I can't say for sure if it's anything like what's depicted here, but Stallone doesn't hold back. He uses actual news footage from the current Burmese conflict to set up the movie's plot, but it's all just an excuse for a giant bloodbath and for Rambo to dust off his bow and arrow. It's riotous and ludicrous, and completely deserving of its R-rating (I'm surprised it was actually able to earn less than an NC-17).
Bottom line: Stallone knows he's giving fans what they want - violence, violence and more violence, which is really all the movie provides. If you're neither a Rambo fan nor an action movie fan, there's little reason for you to see this movie. I liked it because I'm a fan of the original series and because I think sensational violence like this can be exciting to watch. I'm aware of my weakness for this kind of stuff.
Still, on a less biased level, the movie does have a relentless energy level and some mildly tense moments. It takes a lot of pride in itself as a B movie, and as pure action and human body annihilation, it succeeds as entertainment, nothing more, nothing less. Stallone knows people seeing this will be craving dumb, implausible violence, and he practically turns it into art. Not everyone can do that. Stallone can.