Rambo ★★★

Stallone doesn't look 'old' in RAMBO, per se, but he looks bad. On the one hand, he looks a bit like the alpha that Stallone always portrays, but he also looks a bit like the 'Momma' from THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN. It may be a bit of an uncivil way to start my review, but honestly, it contributes to what John Rambo has become. He's still the brooding super soldier, but he's also a bit of a silent, sulky curmudgeon with his nose turned up at society.

Despite being cranky, John Rambo is the best 'boat man'/water taxi fella on the banks of a river that heads into Burma. That's where he's been hanging out for 20 years, I guess. When some well meaning band of missionaries and doctors approach him to deliver them into dangerous Burmese territory, Rambo refuses initially. He finally agrees when the prettiest of the group gives him a pep talk. The heart-to-heart about risking one's life for the sake of others (or some such noble hooey) does two-fold for the script. It introduces a vague notion of Rambo's soul-searching character arc, and it creates an emotional connection (flimsy as it is) between Rambo and the cutest doctor without borders. So ultimately, nothing too fresh from Stallone's script, but it's enough to get our hero in harm's way.

Two seconds into RAMBO, we know Stallone will engage with the evil corrupt military inside the Burmese border. And these guys are truly ugly in their wickedness. They rape innocents, kill children, burn villages to the ground, force villagers to run through minefields for sport, and draft kidnapped youths into child militias. All unprovoked and unexplained. And even worse, the leader likes little boys. Seldom has a group been painted as doing the work of Satan as this group has. The idea planted early in the film, of course, is that Rambo will evoke his own brand of hellfire on these losers. With the grisly, violent barrage that awaits in the climax, these guys had best be bad enough to deserve it.

Where RAMBO wants to be heard is through Stallone's voice as director. Stallone decides here to go ballistic in the arena of film violence. And that's fine. The violence is actually stirring: gory, bloody, and first-hand. RAMBO's final 20 minutes are a cinematic feast of violent choreography that is large in scope. Stallone, his buddies, and a few high-powered machine guns wreak havoc in some of Stallone's best co-ordinated action scenes as a director.

Stallone's intent with RAMBO is to revitalize the franchise with a more realistic, less inflated world of mayhem. This fourth RAMBO film falls into the early-2000s pattern of films reimagined in an effort to make surreal film genres feel more emotionally grounded, gritty, and real. Comic book movies, Bond movies, and fantasy movies began feeling a bit more pragmatic and performance based. Stallone is all about the intimate, ugly human pain of war here. It's his SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

RAMBO works perfectly fine as a an action romp. Its big problem is how highly it thinks of itself in portraying the reality of war. As terrible and ugly as it is, RAMBO feels it has something to say about the hell on screen. Regrettably, at the end of the day, RAMBO's reality is one that still relies on sensationalism and aggrandizing of one man. Justice for the oppressed is never on an equal footing with either Rambo's protecting the pretty blonde or the concept of total destruction.

Although it is an exciting watch and a well-made film, the world of RAMBO suggests a world of consequences, but contradictorily doesn't believe in them. It's sort of like taking the story of Paul Bunyan and turning it into a cautionary tale on the hell of deforestation.

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