Rambo


A little over 25 years has passed since First Blood, which was followed by Rambo: First Blood part II and Rambo III, and now we get, um, “Rambo” (I don’t get the way these titles add up either – what’s next, “Rambo II: First Blood part V?). Sylvester Stallone, who not only stars in but also co-wrote every film in the series, also handles the direction of this fourth picture, as he did with 2006’s surprisingly good “Rocky Balboa”, the final (?) installment in his other classic franchise. And as was the case there, it’s clear that the sixtysomething actor is not in the best shape he’s ever been, but he’s clearly aware of it and has written the screenplay accordingly, weaving the fact that the character is old and tired of it all into the very fiber of the material.

During the promotional blitz of “Rocky Balboa”, AICN did these daily Q&As with Sly (they’ve been doing it again this week, in the days leading to the opening of “Rambo”) and he actually answered the question I sent in:

Yo Sylvester!
I finally saw “Rocky Balboa” this week and I loved it. I expected a goof or at least nostalgia, but it’s actually a great, moving film on its own. Here’s my question: is this what you’re going for with “Rambo”? Because God knows you could make an over the top, wonderfully silly flick with that, but I get the sense that you might make another surprisingly heartfelt and sober topper for one of your franchises.

Thanks,
Kevin L., a fan since childhood

Without a doubt “Rambo” is a very, very difficult screenplay because I have to backtrack to a time when character was at the forefront over action. “Rambo” is the unwanted child of an insensitive military machine. He’s kinda like the Frankenstein monster who didn’t ask to be built and then is pursued to his demise by haunted memories. Yes, I’m going to try to humanize his inhumane existence.

Stallone didn’t lie to me (I love that I can say that!): as fun and badass as “Rambo” can be, more than anything, it’s the tragic tale of a man who’s seen and inflicted way too much violence in his life, to the point where he’s totally lost faith in everything. When we catch up with him, John Rambo is holed up in Thailand, making a living as a snake hunter (no, really). Not far from there, in Burma, the longest running civil war is raging and the most unspeakable atrocities are being committed, but Rambo won’t get involved, having grown desensitized to the horrors that mankind is capable. “It’s thinking like that that keeps the world the way it is.” “Fuck the world.”

You’ll guess that, eventually, Rambo will get out of his torpor, get his ass to Burma and become once again the meanest motherfucker Southeast Asia has ever seen. What prompts his change of heart is that a bunch of self-righteous missionaries have gotten themselves captured in Burma, which makes him suddenly realize that he’d rather “die for something” than “live for nothing.” Some of the early scenes are marred by so-so dialogue and bad acting by whoever’s playing those missionaries, but I dug Stallone’s cynical old-man Rambo and the disturbing introduction of the evil Burmese genocidal maniacs, who are by far the most evil villains he’s ever had to face, shooting, cutting and blowing up countless men, women and children (yes, children).

On a lighter note, I enjoyed liked the ridiculously macho Australian mercenaries who end up tagging along with Rambo, especially for how this leads to a great men-on-a-mission sequence, in which they break into the camp where the missionaries are held prisoner. And then there’s the extended climax, which is more violent and over the top than you could ever imagine! Whether using guns, his trusted knife, his bow and arrows, a machete or his most lethal booby trap ever (you’ll see), Rambo proves that war is in his blood and that, when he’s pushed, “killing’s as easy as breathing.”

I’m telling you, you have no idea how violent this movie is. It’s melgibsonly violent, with a higher bodycount than the other three Rambo flicks – put together! In the director chair, Stallone does an impressive job, taking cues from not only jungle action masterpieces like “Predator” and “Apocalypto”, but also war movies such as “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Thin Red Line” and even “Apocalypse Now”. Just look at the part where Rambo goes up the river, deep into the asshole of the world and the heart of darkness… I’ll stop now, because I’m afraid I might be overselling the thing. But as a diehard fan of ’80s Hollywood action cinema, this was a real treat.