January 27, 2008

Movie Review: Rambo

By 1982 Sylvestor Stallone had already become immortalized in a pair of Rocky films. As the 1980's began, time came to take action to the next level with a character named John Rambo. The film was called First Blood and it centered on an unstable Vietnam veteran who has, shall we say, a run in with a small town sheriff. His story continued in 1982 with Rambo: First Blood Part II, this time Rambo was sent on a secret mission to free POWs still held in Vietnam. This only furthered his violent nature. This was not the end of his story as he returned once again in 1988 in Rambo III when a Russian commander in Afghanistan holds his commanding officer captive. Rambo goes to the Middle East where he teams with the Mujahadeen to rescue his friend. It was thought that this would be the last appearance of the action icon. They were wrong.

Considering the time that has passed, and with Sly's advancing age, no one thought we would see another adventure featuring the muscle-bound star. However, Stallone has different thoughts. It seems that he is intent on securing his star status by revisiting the icons of the past for one last (potentially) go around. It started in 2006 with Rocky Balboa. Prior to its release it sounded like a joke. Sly lacing up the boots and stepping into the ring at age 60? Yeah right. Then the movie came out and proved the nay sayers wrong as it was a solid movie, dare I say an excellent one? Yes I do. Well, Rambo is a little different than Rocky. Does he still have it in him to be "Your worst nightmare"? I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Yes, emphatically yes, he does still have it. Rambo is one of the bloodiest, most violent films I have seen grace the screen in some time. It has to be seen to be believed.

Rambo knows that he is not suited for normal society. The atrocities he has scene, the acts he has committed preclude him from really being around anyone. To save his sanity and the lives of anyone unlucky enough to get on his bad side, he lives in Thailand and makes a living catching snakes for a local snake show. Everything is going fine until a group of missionaries approach him. This group of pure hearted souls is looking to travel upriver into the war zone that is Burma. Their goal is to bring medical and spiritual aid to the oppressed citizens of the country.

Of course, Rambo being who he is and knowing what he knows, has no desire to aid them in getting themselves killed over an ideal that does not work when put into this type of practice. He says as much with very few words. As a matter of fact, he does not have much to say, at least verbally, for most of the film. He only speaks when absolutely necessary. Instead he conveys much more in his silence than he ever could with words.

Anyway, after denying them any assistance, a member of their group is able to convince him to make the trip. Sarah (Julie Benz) says something to him that makes him rethink his position in short order. Rambo takes the group up river, where they get their first taste of what is to come when they are set upon by some Burmese pirates. It is here where Rambo shows a little bit of what he is capable of. Obviously, they get away and Rambo succesfully drops them off in Burma where they part ways. Rambo heads back to his hut and the missionaries move forward into the jungle with their passion and their ideals.

I think you all know what comes next, so I shall dispense with the description. The question you are all asking is just how much, or little, ass does Rambo kick? The answer: tons. I think he takes out half of Asia by the time the violence ends.

The missionaries go missing and the church leader goes to Rambo with a group of hired mercenaries. From this point on out it is take no prisoners, no holds barred action. The further in it getsm, the more over the top it gets, and it is gloriously entertaining. Now, mind you, there is nothing particularly glorious or entertaining about war, but in this setting I cannot lie. Watching Rambo plow through bad guys, it is extremely entertaining.

Rambo goes with the mercenaries into the jungles, finds the captured missionaries and proceds to unload decade's worth or aggression upon them. The bullets fly, the limbs fall, and the blood flows. Stallone, who wrote and directed, made the bullet a visceral weapon once again, rather than the a special effect ala The Matrix.

Rambo is interesting in how it combines the wild movie violence with more that which is more realistic in tone. Early on we get a look at how the Burmese military deal with rebels and with small villages. It is not pretty, it is not fun, and is rather dark, depressing, and just rips at your soul. This is in stark contrast to what goes on when Rambo and the mercenaries come to town.

Beyond the violence, the movie has a rather cynical outlook on our ability to change the world with hope. Of course, the overall outlook has a bit of hope, it takes awhile to get there. The way the vision is presented feels quite thoughtful and bit deeper than one would expect. This is the most surprising aspect of the film.

I have to admit that I was not expecting any depth of thought in Rambo. I was just hoping for a crazy action film, which it certainly was. However, what puts this over the top in terms of quality is the fact that there is some intelligence behind the story, not to mention characters that are actually interesting.

Stallone gives Rambo an interesting feel. He does not say much, but his eyes and his silence say so much. When the missionaries ask why he won't help, or is urged by the mercenaries to speed up, he remains silent. Watch his face. Yes, it is expressionless, but in that look he conveys his weight of experience, something that no one will be able to completely understand.

I was floored by how good the film was. Sure, it could have used with a touch more fleshing out, but it was so much fun that many of its flaws can easily be overlooked. Judging by the reaction of the audience at my screening, I wasn't the only one. There were cheers and clapping and a generally electric atmosphere. Quite amazing if you ask me.

Bottomline. Bloody, violent, and surprisingly good. If you like action movies or Rambo, this is easily a must see. There is something that is absolutely electrifying about the film. Sylvestor Stallone has pretty much secured his action star starus with this film. If it is the last appearance of Rambo, he goes out in a hale of bullets and just a little bit of hope.

Highly Recommended.


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