Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay: Art Monterastelli & Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz & Matthew Marsden
John J. Rambo returns. The same unstoppable killing machine his country made him but, some 20 years on from Rambo III, a different man. Older, wiser and semi-retired in the heart of Thailand, Rambo has attempted to put his killing past behind him and live a gentler life, away from the rest of the world. Having been let down by his country, twice, forced to resuce his friend and see those he cared about die; Rambo is also a cynical and introverted man. His first words in this forth instalment of the action franchise are, “Fuck the world,” and perfectly sum up how this character feels about the world now. He’s approached by a group of missionaries who want him to guide them into the heart of Burma so they can provide medical aid and bibles to those in need. Rambo is reluctant and tries to persuade, Sarah (Julie Benz) to take herself and her group back to where they came from. Blinded by their own need to prove that they will make a difference, the group don’t back down and Rambo reluctantly leads them into the depths of a war torn jungle. No sooner have they arrived, Rambo’s warnings come true and the group are captured by a platoon of renegade Burmese soldiers who are tearing apart the country. So with the ‘aid’ of a group of mercenaries, Rambo picks up his trusty bow and arrow and sets off to war one last time.
An unrelentingly dark war film, Rambo returns to the gritty roots of the original film, First Blood, to deliver a vicious and visceral action film. Nothing will quite prepare you for the bloody ride this film takes you on, as Stallone returns to one of his most famous characters and shows us the dark side of being the ultimate soldier. No one liners, no snazzy special effects, just gut wrenching violence and the true horrors of killing. Rambo is a man who can’t escape what he is: a killing machine. Made by the government who abandoned him, he is so finely tuned that, as he comments in the film, ‘Killing becomes as easy as breathing.’ First Blood still holds up today as a gritty and violent action film that showed a country abandoning its men after they return from Vietnam, as well as providing requisite action thrills. The sequels, though very entertaining and certainly recommended, went in the more ‘Rambo as a superhero route’ with the set pieces getting bigger and bigger. Rambo however, is much more like its originator and provides a perfect conclusion to an almost perfect set of action films.
Stallone still embodies the character and gets more dialogue this time, letting us see the man behind the soldier. He also takes up the role of director for the first time in the series and brings a real life approach to proceedings. As mentioned, there are no one liners or ridiculous heroics, as all of the characters literally fight for their lives. Gore and grit is thrown on the screen in a relentless barrage of horrific images that show the true nature of slaughter and war. Stallone’s approach pulls no punches and the scenes of carnage, particularly those of the Burmese army slaughtering villagers, are harsh and often hard to watch. They do not glorify violence but rather show the nasty nature of it and its perpetrators. Scenes of dismemberment, rape, torture and even children being killed are all thrown at us, alongside the enemy soldiers being dispatched by Rambo. It can be uncomfortable viewing but does serve a purpose. Scenes of rape of the village women may go a little too too far in one instance, but Stallone is trying to show us that bad things are always occurring and not everyone can be rescued. These atrocities are going on in the world and foreigners venturing in to help and preach the way of God can be just as pointless as the killing. Stallone makes a brave move to show that the American missionaries, though good people, may be just as deluded as the Burmese in what they are trying to achieve. Not that anyone should ever give up on trying to help those in need, but maybe look at doing it in different ways.
Though the imagery and actions are sometimes hard to watch, Rambo is by no means horrible to watch. In fact, it is quite the opposite as Stallone has crafted a kinetic action film as well as delivering a message. The character of Rambo, despite being considerably older and a little bulkier, has lost none of his craft and when called into action he is still capable of showing the team of highly trained (and younger) mercenaries a thing or two. The battles and action scenes are more ground and reality based, compared to the other sequels, and give a real visceral punch. Blood is certainly drawn and limbs hacked off but the all important Rambo elements are there: bow and arrow, tense rescue from an enemy compound and enough fire power to start World War III. The best bit comes when Rambo rescues a group of Burmese villagers from a game of land mine Russian roulette using his bow arrow, planting many an arrow in the enemy’s head.
Some may baulk at the idea of a white, Western hero going in and killing so many of an Eastern country. There is no statement to be made here, as evil is evil no matter where they come from. In the first two films, Rambo went against his own people, Americans, as it was they who let him down. Here, it is just a group of people from a country who are the bad guys, not an entire country. And every country has their bad guys. If anything does let Rambo the movie down, it’s perhaps the less than stellar supporting cast. The rag tag mercenaries are nothing more than stereotypes and unnecessarily aggressive and antagonistic. They maybe take up a little too much of the action when Rambo should be kicking butt, though having said that, it goes with the notion that Rambo is an older fighter and may need a little assistance. However, Matthew Marsden (Resident Evil 3) makes an impression as the mercenary sniper, School Boy. He is the only one friendly to Rambo and is a dab hand with the rifle come the action scenes. Julie Benz (Dexter) also stands out as the refreshing Christian who actually wants to help, rather than just preach the Lord’s word. The classic Rambo theme is disappointingly in short thrift here, which is pretty much unforgivable.
Still, Stallone has crafted an intense, challenging and horrifying action film that stays close to it roots. So close in fact, the film has such a welcome 80s, old school feel, it could have been made all those years ago with the others. Hardened critics will no doubt dismiss it and it may not be as subtle as art house or dramatic cinema but Rambo does deliver a message. And any message delivered that gets you to think in some way is worth the time. It’s also an excellent action film. In and era of bloated excess, pointless remakes and shallow blockbusters, its good to see a hero going out and getting his hands dirty and actually fighting for something.
On a side note: Rambo ends in such a perfect way, that despite my want for many more adventures, this should be the last film in the series. Rambo truly has come full circle.