The Rambo series is one that is both near and dear to my heart as a moviegoer who grew up in the early to mid 90s watching and re-watching each film at least a half a dozen times each, to give a modest estimate. Now though it is the year 2008 (at the time of this original writing anyway), at least 20 some odd years since ‘Rambo 3’ the last film in the former trilogy that began in the early eighties with First Blood parts one and two.
The first thing I noticed about this movie is the title. Throughout the stages of its production at various times it had gone through many different names, some as simple as Rambo 4, some as tacky as ‘Eye of the Pearl’ and so on. Finally the name decided on was thus; John Rambo. However, Sly also didn’t care much for this, as it was a wee bit derivative of his last hit film entitled ‘Rocky Balboa’… Also he opined that it gave the impression of a finality that wasn’t necessarily true. With Rocky Balboa, it would be pushing the limits of credibility to their utmost to have that pit-bull faced pugilist step into the ring anymore now that Sly is going on the age that one becomes eligible for social security. However, with Rambo, no such concerns are needed since for one: he is not an athlete and two: even if Sly is a hundred and sixty, give him an m60 and a few thousand rounds of ammo and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed hit.
So they finally decided upon the simple moniker of ‘Rambo’… which seems a bit strange to me, seeing as it is indeed a sequel, and the third sequel in a series of movies of which only two have carried the name of its protagonist in the title. Had it been up to me, and feel free to mock me for this suggestion I would have simply entitled this movie ‘Last Blood’… Admittedly it has that air of finality that Sly would probably resent, but since this movie is such a nice companion piece with the first movie, rather than with the two cartoonish sequels, (although it does have much in common with them as well in some respects..) I think it would have worked well. Alas, however, I was not consulted, and for that I guess, I should not feel too insulted, for while the name of the flick may make for an interesting piece of complaint material, the movie itself, I thought was everything it should have been and perhaps more.
It is to be sure one of the most violent movies I have ever seen. It is not cartoon violence. It is raw, real, in your face, unflinchingly brutal, so much so that I suspect that it will even turn away some hardened action movie lovers. As for those that are in the least bit squeamish, might I suggest you go elsewhere for your cinematic entertainment this week. Rambo is not for you. However, it is not merely an exercise in gore, as some would accuse it of being. There is a method behind the madness. The violence here, I think, is here as a direct contrast to the ‘fake’ movie violence you see in most pictures. Directors like Sam Peckinpah used to make bloody movies as a form of catharsisis, in the hopes, flawed as they may be, that once audiences saw a glimpse of what real war was about, that they would be so put off and shocked by it that as a result, the most violent of films such as The Wild Bunch could be a vehicle to promote piece. That however, was not the case. However, with Rambo, Slyvester Stallone has made a movie that makes the final scene of the Wild Bunch look like a bunch of kids throwing paint balls at each other. So perhaps that final catharsis has been achieved, and if not, I think this is as close as one could ever possibly get to it.
Aside from the amped up violence there is little here in this movie that has not been done in the other three. You have your bad guys, who are indeed very bad. And you have Rambo, who is going to kill them all in ways that would make Hannibal Lecter lose his lunch and give Freddy Krueger nightmares. In previous films Rambo has single handedly taken on and defeated an entire town’s worth of law enforcement officers, a jungle full of Vietnamese guerrillas, and a squadron or two of those lovable old Ruskies in Afghanistan. So from that standpoint, there’s not that much new ground to break here as far as opposition goes. For what it matters the majority of the film takes place in the locale of Burma, home of the longest running civil war/genocide still currently raging.
The crux of the plot is as follows. A few good hearted Christian missionaries hire a reluctant Rambo, who now makes his living as a snake catcher for the local population…(don’t ask…) to take them on his primitive boat up river to Burma in order to give out physical and spiritual care to those being affected by the ongoing conflict. After much nagging on the part of a blond haired foxy female missionary, Rambo finally agrees and escorts them through the perilous water, along the way dispensing of a band of pirates who momentarily interrupt the story.
Once there, they depart on their mission of spreading God’s love for a short time before the enemy becomes aware of their activity, and for no other reason than just because they are evil looking foreigners they decide to wreak havoc on their pursuits. In this dramatic portion of the movie many fopas are shattered as you can clearly see scores of young children being brutally mowed down by machine gun fire. A few manage to escape death by capture, but their fate is no picnic either. Indeed, some of them are taken down in one of the baddies favorite sports which I will call the landmine lagoon of chicanery. In this contest, the prisoners will be forced to run back and forth across a flooded rice paddy loaded with landmines until they eventually land on one, thus blowing themselves up, or their bored guards simply shoot them down for the sake of saving time.
Those not dispensed of this way are either raped several times (not graphically depicted but clearly alluded to and briefly shown..) or hung upside down and fed alive to hungry pigs. So it is with this in mind that when our hero finally begins his rampage on these scum, that we are more than sympathetic to his most brutal methods of dealing with them, of which include such great little devices as ripped out throats, hacked off heads, flayed torsos, and bodies shot so full of lead that they seem to turn into red mulch on contact. This time around though Rambo is not entirely alone, as he is equipped with a team of somewhat skilled mercenaries to accompany him on this mission.
The ending is a viscerally satisfying gunfight on par with anything Peckinpah or Tarintino ever masterminded. And the film is book ended slyly (no pun intended) with the use of the original theme song from ‘First Blood’ Part One… There is also a nice add-on at the end of the movie which I will not spoil that I guess is designed to formally end this series once and for all. The only thing I will give away about it is this… The first glimpse of this grizzly character that we ever saw was in First Blood Part One with him wondering aimlessly along a long road…The end of the last movie sees him in similar attire, wondering on yet another long road, this time however, the end of the road is in full view. And to borrow a quote from the Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip it’s been.
See Rambo if: You’re a committed fan of the series, you’re a glutton for gore, or you just love old Sly-vester. If you are any of these kinds of people then this movie will no doubt give you your money’s worth. Although, might I suggest waiting for the DVD, as my theater experience was somewhat less than stellar. For one thing there was this annoying douchebag behind me who kept babbling throughout the previews and most of the movie, trying to impress his friends with him by accurately predicting what was to occur. I seriously wanted Sly to jump out of the screen and disembowel this jerk.
Also there were a few inconsiderates who did not silence or even turn off the screens of their cellphones, who I also felt deserving of death. Finally, the screen quality at most cineplexes are far from desired. The scratchiness is the same now as it was fifty years ago at drive ins and there were two noticeable green lines which stayed on the screen for the duration of the movie. In an age of readily available High Definition TVs, and Blu-Ray DVDs with enough extras to keep you busy for a full day or more, I think my days of rushing to the theater for my movie going needs are fast approaching their end. And that’s all I have to say about that. Boo-yah baby!