Rambo (2008) dir. Sylvestor Stallone
Starring: Slyvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Michael Marsden
There must have been a lot of angst pent up on Stallone's brain to unleash such brutal body-ripping carnage on screen, because "Rambo" is the most violent movie ever made. The previous Rambo films were never that graphic - in fact, the best episode "First Blood" had virtually no death. "Rambo" is not the reboot that "Rocky" was, it's a film as bloated as Stallone's grossly pumped up body, and retains little of the deep-rooted conflict of John J. Rambo. But if you want carnage and action, Rambo delivers in spades.
Rambo nowadays lives in the political war zone of Burma making a living catching poisonous snakes to fight in a gambling ring. A group of Christian missionaries show up one day asking to take them down river to work in a medical camp. After much pleading he reluctantly agrees. And so begins the violent journey Rambo warned them of. The evil Burmese rebels raid the medical camp and take the Americans prisoner. Rambo then joins a group of mercenaries employed to rescue them.
Rambo is not the Rambo we rememeber. In fact, the Rambo we remember is not the Rambo that actually was. Does that make sense? I personally believe Rambo to be one of the great American movie characters - he's above and beyond any of Schwartzenegger films. In fact, the evolution of his character from a psychologically disturbed Vietnam vet in "First Blood" to heroic but reluctant mercenary in "Rambo III" is actually a challenging and complex role. All the Rambos are good films. "First Blood" is fantastic, "Rambo II" is ok, and "Rambo III" is very good. There's also a lot in common with the Jason Bourne character - a soft spoken killer, with a heart he just can't turn off. Unfortunately, in this new film, you'll see a large leap in de-evolution from the last time we saw him on screen.
The attraction to the Rambo character was that he didn't talk - he was a character defined by his actions. Stallone continues this trait in this 4th installment, but after several scenes of lengthy brooding silences, he regurgiates his thoughts with overwritten faux-profound statements like "When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing" or "Live for nothing, or die for something". Everything else about the set up to the action is laboured and unncessarily unimaginative. Despite these faults, the film is not all that predictable. When the mercenaries first appear on screen, they are badly charaterized an antagonists to Rambo's selfless morals. I thought for sure they would get killed off early so Rambo could prove he was right all along, but they actually stick around and become integral to the story.
Stallone makes up for his atrocious, poorly written dialogue, with tremendous in-your-face and often shocking action sequences. There's 3 or 4 major set pieces that, in terms of graphic bloodshed, do for gun fights what "Braveheart" did for sword and shield battles. Stallone equips his characters with some massive heavy artillery. Bullets don't just wound or kill it's victims, they tear the limps off people and throw them back 10 feet or more from the impact. The mercenary, 'School Boy' (Matthew Marsden) is given a 4 foot long sniper canon that has the power to explode a person's head like a watermelon with one shot.
No explosion, gunshot, or knife stabbing is taken for granted. Each one is puncuated with a creative maiming of some sort that will cause you either turn away from the screen or laugh hysterically. Stallone as director (remember he's directed 7 feature films) creates some suspenseful and tense sequences. The best scene is a harrowing chase through the jungle as Rambo flees the Burmese army led by a pack of frothing pitbulls. I was reminded of the quality running in Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto". The scene ends with a gigantic claymore mine explosion, which Rambo manages to outrun. It's all impressive and reprehensible at the same time.
Overall, Rambo satisfies my visceral sensabilities, which is enough to warrant a recommendation. But it's not the same Rambo. A shred of the once great character I used to love remains - about as much as Jerry Goldsmiths raucious score remains in this film. Enjoy.