When I told my friend I thought Rambo was blissfully unaware he shot back that it was consciously oblivious. They are both accurate. Sylvester Stallone’s new chapter in the “let’s revisit everything that made me famous part of my life” has brought him back to his second most visited character John Rambo. And he’s surlier than ever. Unhappy at work (must not have great health care options for snake catchers in Thailand) he’s given the opportunity to boat a bunch of so single minded it hurts missionaries into Burma so they can help the innocent people who are being slaughtered.
“Do you have guns?” Rambo asks. When Sarah (Julie Benz) the missionary who won’t give up on Rambo says no, Rambo replies “Then you’re not helping anyone.” Why can’t people just leave this man alone!? Eventually she talks him into it. The missionaries get trapped in Burma and Rambo has to come to the rescue, but not alone this time. He has to play second to a group of rowdy mercenaries for a bit. That’s the story.
It was my hope (yeah I had some) walking into this film that age and wisdom might allow Stallone to take a sharper look at this iconic (and laugable?) character as he was able to do with Rocky Balboa last year, kind of bring what Sanjuro was to Yojimbo.
I don’t think Stallone has as strong a handhold on the character of John Rambo as he does on Rocky, though he has a better handle on this film than they did on the last two sequels. Instead of taking a look at how living a violent life can cut both ways, he embraces Rambo’s killing machine side, even idealizes it. Vietnam didn’t make him a killer, Rambo monologues to himself while hammering into existence a new blade, he always was a killer! Calm down there son.
The death in this movie is violent, quick and brutal. Those moments in other films like 28 Days Later where a sudden act of violence is used to surprise you and to keep you on the edge of your seat, well, Stallone has taken that 80’s action mentality of Commando where 300 cronies are mowed down and amped it up for the first person video game shooter mentality of today’s youth. This is Saw meets Saving Private Ryan. It’s torture porn for the patriotic, only the bad guys are getting it this time.
I remember how the tool shed scene in Commando shook me up when I was a kid. The circular blade scalping the dude, Schwarzenegger taking off that guys arm with a machette and blood spurting out. Of course it’s laughable. Not so much anymore when it actually looks like the poor Burmese villagers are really getting limbs blown and cut off. Many times the adrenaline high is so unexpected you go “Woah”!
Though this violence serves it’s purpose. The Burmese baddies are so villainized that when Rambo finally lays down the law bow and arrow style, you can’t help but cheer and laugh because you can’t believe where that arrow just went through – “Woah”!
Most people will just toss this movie aside, but there are ideas at work here, or an attempt at dealing with ideas (whether the liberal minded types of Hollywood agree or not.) Stallone is a capable director and a capable actor, and he brings some savvy and style to this film. What he’s not very capable at doing is structuring his writing and creating depth in his dialogue, so many of these ideas are ham fisted and simplistic.
One of the funniest exchanges takes place on the dock where Rambo parks his boat. Rambo and Sarah spit back and forth dialogue no more than three words long a sentence. They stand like video game characters, emote like video game characters and speak with the language of video game characters.
“Live for nothing or die for something,” Rambo intensley mumbbles at one of the mercenaries hired by a pastor to save his lost sheep. At another point he does the Stallone scream where most of what he says gets lost in that slur of his. It’s a moment you don’t realize you missed all these years until you see it.
Eventually Stallone’s “war is necessary and killing has merits – if only to kill the killers” theme is crystallized and the moralizing is shoved down out throats. Everyone faces their own mortality to understand the need of a Rambo figure in any era or situation, even when peace is what they’re searching for – after all, we all have a little Rambo in us. To come at a time when the world is facing the closest thing we’ve seen to Vietnam shows the creator’s obliviousness to a need for kinder and gentler times, (though this hyper violent movie is also a freeing experience. Personally, the Rambo in me wouldn’t mind seeing Rambo hunt down Osama!) Maybe that’s why the people whose minds he’s changed see him for the final time, a lone figure standing on a hillside in the haze of distance, while waving goodbye and thank you at the same time. Perhaps Rambo realizes that his era of righteous retribution is over.
You would think that would be a great place to end the review, but it’s not. You see Sarah tells Rambo that he should go home, things have changed. And that’s true, unlike when Rambo first came home, we love our troops. We treat them with respect. Their involvement in the war is no longer seen as support for the reasons of war. The ironic thing now is that Rambo with his use guns first mentality will fit in perfectly to the political climate created by Bush’s white house. Things have changed, and he’ll fit right in. I’m sure there’ll always be killing that needs to be done.
As a side note, when I first watched the film opening day, I thought a fifth one would be inevitable, only because it would be fun to see Rambo do some killing back home. Just today, in an Entertainment Weekly, I saw Harvey Weinstein say that they were talking about a part V, and mentioned Rambo’s final stopping place as a good place for some more action…my attempt at a bad joke may yet become a reality.