I really had no idea how to title this review….hence the title.
I watched the original Rambo trilogy in the weeks leading up the films release this past Friday (my birthday by the way) just to get in the mindset. I was nowhere near the mindset I needed to be in to watch this film when it started up.
RAMBO is a different animal from the First Blood/Rambo movies of the eighties and nineties. If you haven’t seen it yet, that’s important to remember.
If ROCKY BALBOA was Sylvester Stallone’s way of paying homage to not only the character of Rocky, but the previous movies as well, RAMBO was Stallone’s way of restarting the franchise. Seriously, if this is goodbye, then it’s a fitting farewell. However, the movie has such a more intense feel to it than the Rambo movies of the past, it feels like Stallone may have been starting something up.
The movie opens with news graphic news footage depicting the violence and genocide in Burma. This is real news footage with commentaries from different broadcasts over the years all mixed in a familiar montage style.
As the credits come up, we are treated to our first look at the movie’s villains and there leader as they callously send prisoners running across a rice field (for those who don’t know, rice kind of grows under water) where land mines have just been randomly thrown. There’s no music. No build up. Suddenly, there’s an explosion and blood and meat flying everywhere as one of the prisoners steps on a mine and the Burmese soldiers open fire on the rest killing them.
Thus, the tone of this movie is set. We know from the outset that we are dealing with people who will kill for fun. Then, we meet Rambo. Stallone isn’t trying to impress anyone with his well sculpted muscles in this film. The Rambo of this movie is a John Rambo who has lived in the jungles of Asia for years. He is huge. He is an animal. He’s…catching snakes? Yep. He’s a snake wrangler for a snake show. One thing that is apparent from the outset with Rambo is that he is still a man who is unsettled. While the rest of the world has moved on from the war that made Rambo the man he is, he has not. He still has his demons. He still hasn’t figured out who he is since the mess in that Oregon town in First Blood. John Rambo is a man who does what he has to do just to get by. And he’s not taking crap from anybody.
The strength of this film lies not in revisiting an old friend like we did in ROCKY BALBOA. Rather the strength of this film is the fact that the main character has moved on in the best way he knows how. He still hasn’t, as Trautman said in RAMBO 3, “come full circle,” but he has evolved and changed. He’s not looking for peace anymore. He’s given up on finding it. He’s not concerned about going home anymore. He feels there’s nothing there for him. He’s not concerned about fighting anymore. He’s done his time. But he still hasn’t come to grips with who he is…what he is. Until now.
When Rambo starts being Rambo, it’s like slipping on a favorite pair of shoes. You know that you should probably start looking for a new pair, but these are so comfortable.
Another of the films true strengths is one that made me very uncomfortable. The violence. This isn’t the cool, traps that mame the pursuers, or big explosions that are pretty to look at. This is legs being blown off, people literally being blown to bits, entrails spilling out, women being raped, and even kids being bayonetted and babies thrown into a fire. (Seriously, the film shows a soldier rip a woman’s child out of her arms and throw it into a fire.) It’s hard to watch in some places, but it’s necessary to accomplish what Stallone wanted to accomplish in this movie. For one thing, it doesn’t bother you to see the bad guys get it in the end. Then there’s the desire that Stallone had to raise awareness to the situation in Burma. (I’ll come back to this in a bit.)
Yes, apparently the action movie has evolved from the fun frolicking romps of the eighties and nineties. The new action film is all about grit and guts. Which, I guess is okay, but I think it takes a certain kind of courage to trust your audience to have fun in an action film. The makers of Live Free or Die Hard did it and while it was met with mixed reactions, I for one enjoyed it and appreciated the spirit of the original Die Hard films being there. So, I kind of missed the over the top, that could never happen, style of Rambo 2 and 3.
However, Stallone did one thing well. Rambo has become a joke in our popular vernacular. He’s a throwback and people seem to forget that FIRST BLOOD wasn’t really a “fun” action movie. It had depth to it. Stallone brings that back with RAMBO. A certain depth to the character, what he doing, and where he ends up.
I liked this movie. I didn’t have fun with it. But, I liked it. Why didn’t I have fun with it? Too real. I have honestly lived my life in complete ignorance when it comes to the situation in Burma. The brutality of what is going on makes me uneasy mainly because I don’t know that anything has ever been done about it. I don’t want to get politcal or anything, but I have to wonder why the great United States has never taken an active role in trying to bring peace to that land. I don’t mean through force, but at the very least diplomatically. I guess I don’t understand the situation so it seems like pointless slaughter in the name of power. It seems like the kind of thing we in America usually take a stand against. This movie gave me the same uneasy feeling. I couldn’t cheer Rambo, I could only hope that he made these evil men pay for what they had done not only to the missionaries, but mainly to the natives of Burma. (By the way, he made them pay.)
The only real problem I had with the movie was the characterization of the leader of the missionary group. I’ve known a lot of missionaries in my life. I have never met any who go to places that are war torn and dangerous to have the attitude that that guy had in the film. So it felt a little mischaracterized.
Ultimately, I suggest this film only to fans of the original FIRST BLOOD. It’s not a date movie. Don’t take your wife/girlfriend to see it. Don’t take your 13 year old kid to see it either. In fact, unless you’re 17 or 18, don’t see this movie. Seriously.
Overall, I give the film a 3.5 out 5. It was a good movie, and if it’s the farewell we get to give Rambo, then it’s a fitting one. He has finally come full circle.