Sylvester Stallone | 2008 | 93 minutes | USA
Two decades since Rambo III, Sylvester Stallone has gone back to the well of John J. Rambo for one more drink. The fact that a franchise was made out of the Rambo character was a sketchy decision to start, since First Blood was such a great movie, and worked so well on its own. But then along came Rambo: First Blood Part II, which is a completely different kind of action film, but in its own way, equally excellent. Then came Rambo III. Which is probably best left forgotten, but really can't be because of how badly it cheapened the franchise. Stallone surely understood this, which is why there wasn't a Rambo IV following it. A decade and a half or so later though, with a career that wasn't what it once was, he started making attempts to revive the franchise and character of Rambo. This new Rambo and his revival of Rocky Balboa last year, are his attempts (successful, I suppose) of putting himself back in the spotlight.
The new Rambo film, Rambo, starts with John living on the outskirts of Burma, making a living by renting his boat to tourists, and collecting snakes for a snake show promoter. No more hurt. No more fighting. His war is over. ... Or is it?
Of course it's not. There's a brutal warzone living right next door to him, and of course he's going to tighten his headband, bust out his bow and arrows, and kill more men than humanly possible. The how he gets to that point is what's wrong with the movie.
A group of Christian missionaries arrive one day and ask Rambo to take them up the river to Burma so that they can do the Lord's work, and make a difference. Rambo refuses them, telling them to go home. That they can't make a difference. Later that night when Rambo returns to his boat, Sarah, the hot missionary (played by Julie Benz from Dexter) is sitting on his boat waiting for him to plead that he take them to Burma. Again, he refuses, and tells her to go home about half a dozen times. After making puppy dog eyes in the rain at him for long enough, and giving a ridiculous but supposedly moving speech about how even if they're able to save one life, it'd be worth it, Rambo appears to have a crush, and agrees to take them.
FFWD a few weeks and of course they've been taken hostage in Burma. A minister from their church comes with a group of mercinaries, telling Rambo, and asking him to take the mercinaries up the the river to save the missionaries. Rambo gets mad, has a flashback, makes himself a big machete, and heads to Burma with the gang of hired tough guys to save his fantasy girlfriend.
So all of that is the not so great first half of the film. What follows is the rescue mission, and then a 20 minute or so CGI gore-gy of blood, guts, exploding heads, bodies and vehicles as Rambo and his gang of merry men (but mostly Rambo) take out all of the bad guys. It's a relentless sequence which is visceraly brutal, and makes the subpar film that's preceeded it all worthwhile.
The major problem with Rambo is that it takes itself too seriously. There's some fun in it, but the heavyhandedness that the Burma conflict is dealt with is offputting. Also, the main villain isn't a well drawn character like the villains in First Blood, First Blood II, and to a lesser degree Rambo III are. His death scene is really gruesome, but it doesn't mean as much as it would have if we'd known more about him than "he likes to fuck young boys". Which to be fair, isn't a very nice thing to do, but I need a couple more strikes against him to get me excited about his being killed.
Rambo's not a terrible film, and it's a big improvement over Rambo III, but it's mostly just because there's a tonne of splatter. Which by the way, I'm not quite sure how the MPAA let go with just an R rating. My guess: Dollah, dollah bills, y'all.