Whew, the man and the machine is back. That’s right, after 20 years without John Rambo, John Rambo came back for 2008’s … Rambo. Again, I keep hammering home this point, but the marketing team continues to zero in on what the fans want in the title of the film: Rambo. Did you get that? Rambo! Rambo is back!
So yeah. First off, the most impressive thing here is that the film was filmed in 2007 when Sylvester Stallone would’ve been 60-years-old. For a 60-year-old dude, he’s still as, uh, Rambo-y as ever. He’s running through the jungles of Thailand, Mexico and the United States (the three locations it was filmed) as fast and crazy as ever.
The second thing is, for a series re-launch 20 years after its heyday … people are sleeping on this film! It’s phenomenal. For an action film. Yes, I have to hedge by putting it in the genre box, but still, I’m impressed. Even the Die Hard franchise, which has five films and I binged those earlier this year, from a film-to-film basis, isn’t as consistently good and solid as Rambo so far is (we’ll see how the fifth film stacks up tomorrow).
I find this one even better than Rambo III and a top notch entry in the franchise because a.) we flipped the script by having the premise be Christian missionaries who want to go into Burma to help the people instead of Rambo yet again helping a government he despises (the United States); and b.) it’s the first of the franchise directed by Stallone (and he co-writes it again, too) and he said he envisioned it as if Rambo was directing it, and that comes across in the fast-paced, choppily-edited shots and action sequences. And because it’s Stallone, the film still has an interesting meditation on war and violence and is infused with plenty of heart. Also, it’s the most believable, to use that word loosely, film since the first one because it’s not just Rambo taking on this army. He brings a bunch of mercenaries with him (including one of my low-key favorite actors, Tim Kang, who I most know from The Mentalist), and that helps add to the action fun.
This is good! It’s violent as all hell, and when a film really pushes the limits on violence, as this one does, particularly difficult-to-watch war violence where armies are mowing down innocent civilians, that really pushes a certain segment of the viewing audience away, but for weirdos like me, it works. Because war is hell. Show the hell. And again, I forgot just how violent this film really is. It’s magnitudes crazier than any film in the franchise, and that’s saying something. Limbs are flying off. Blood is splattering. It’s messed up. But it works on that level.
And yes, I’m a sucker for that meditation on violence. That is, the Christian missionaries come in abhorring violence, wanting only to do good for the villagers, and of course, Rambo has a difference ethos. War is in his blood. It’s who he is, and no matter how much he tries to be anything else, that’s who he is at the end of the day. So, when he kills a few pirates in front of the missionaries at the beginning of the film (which is funny anyway because Rambo is mentioned as being the person who knows the river the best, and yet he leads them right to pirates; whoops) that establishes that tension. Well, it seems like Rambo’s ethos win the day because one of the missionaries later ends up killing a soldier in self-defense. At least it was self-defense, but it sure seems to settle the tension.
Another positive of this film compared to even Rambo: First Blood Part II, which is the most action-y of the franchise up to this point, is that it’s craziness-to-the-wall the entire time. It really doesn’t let up. There’s foot chases, and bombs, and bullets whizzing every which way, and arrows flying and it hardly ever lets up. Add in that chaotic Rambo-style directing, and it’s an action film that breezes by.
We also get a nice homage to the first film at the end with Rambo in his original Rambo outfit walking up a path back in the United States.
I can’t say enough good things, to be honest. So, I will say one bad thing: Rambo kills a bunch of tracking dogs. His first time killing a dog since the first film.
If you’ve been sleeping on this one and you already like Rambo, then give it a second chance. It’s much better than I remember. I love Rambo, and he’s as Rambo-y (to use that for the third time in one blog post) as ever.