MRisnes’s review published on Letterboxd:
Just to get my take on the whole uncomfortable political element of the film out of the way up front, I must admit I really don’t see it, and I’m the kind of guy who makes ferreting out real world socio-political subtext in genre movies his bread and butter. Regardless of how superficially this film seems to present itself as some right wing revenge fantasy and fear mongering against an entire country and its people, it truthfully doesn’t come across that way in its actual text. Maybe it’s because I’ve been following the Rambo storyline for so many decades at this point that I can’t see far enough past how this film fits into the larger thematic arc of the character to find it truly offensive.
Rambo has been a time bomb wandering from one place to the next, encountering and then utterly demolishing injustice, brutality and savagery wherever he goes. Be it small minded, small town white cops or Russians overstepping in the Afghan desert or warlords committing atrocity in Burma, Rambo comes across these situations and literally becomes vengeance. That’s just what he does and has always done. This is a guy who exposed US government bureaucracy and military incompetence in First Blood Part 2. Rambo isn’t political. He’s a Rorschach test of your own political beliefs and whether you’re a bleeding heart or an angry hawk, he’ll bring your views to the surface as he lays waste to evil.
The film itself is much better on rewatch. I liked it fine in the theater, but worried it was too grim and one note to be rewatchable. On revisit, I really enjoyed all the character work and set up and thought all the performances were quite strong. This is a fast paced and very simple film. A solid 89 minutes that moves like a freight train and pays off every single thing it sets up. Sure, it’s a Taken riff, but it’s well made and having Stallone’s Rambo at the center, sucking everything into him like a black hole of pure hate and heartbreak elevates this high above your typical DTV actioner.
Mention must be made of this being the first Hollywood film to be shot with the Red Gemini camera. A rig that was developed and primarily used for outer space photography and exceedingly low light environments. The razor sharpness of it looks unbelievably slick and awesome to my eyes. Especially the sequences of Mexico at night with all the lights of the city glowing below. It also benefits delineating the shadow detail of his underground tunnels which are both an excellent metaphor for his wounded mental state and a kick ass place for the final set piece of a violent action film.
This movie’s culminating orgy of violence must be seen to be believed. When you have Rambo shooting headless corpses laying on the ground just to rub it in, you know we’re through the looking glass here, people. Plus, the final kill is so spectacularly mean, so downright demonic, it’s a damn good thing he earned it cause Jesus Christ, man. I mean yikes.
Not much else to say. It’s not the best Rambo film. It admittedly doesn’t often even feel like a Rambo film. But by the end it does and that’s all that matters. Stallone is in fine form and still a monumental presence despite being in his mid 70’s and the high resolution photography highlighting the seams on his hair piece. I’m sure he could be doing this stuff into his 80’s. I’ll still be watching.