Rambo (2008)

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Sylvester Stallone, after recently returning to his Christian roots, decided to reboot both his beloved franchises. I’d suppose this might be because he wants to somehow reconcile these films to his new belief system. Yet Rambo is not all that different from what it probably would have been without his conversion. If anything, his conversion has only made him more honest about the character, a character he fails to reconcile to his beliefs values.

Once more ex-soldier John Rambo has settled into a life in the wild, living among the locals in the jungles of Thailand. He seems at peace here and has found ways to get by in the wild. But before long those pesky people from society start bugging him. This time it’s a group of American missionaries who want him to take them upriver to Burma. But Burma is a war zone and Rambo has no desire to enter such a place again. But, of course, he will because he’s still got that burning desire to kill and has to go rescue those missionaries after they get kidnapped.

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As the film progresses I slowly came to the realization that this was all eerily similar to another film. What I was seeing was Rambo III again. It’s the same idea as we start with the Rambo at peace, forced back into violence by paper-thin plotting. And once the carnage starts Rambo is just a killing machine with as much depth as the plot.

The only major change from Rambo III is that Stallone seems to have come to terms with the true nature of Rambo. He does not simply acknowledge the destructive and violent nature of the character, he embraces it. This film is essentially an exploitation picture with a high body count and visceral gore. Bullets decapitate limbs, heads explode and blood gushes. It teeters back and forth between disgusting and ridiculous and both make the action pieces undesirable and unexciting.

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With this violence comes a simplification of the villains. The enemy exists in that easy evil, the kind that should die horrible, grizzly deaths. The film has a several scenes where the enemy soldiers rape women, shoot children and play demented games with prisoners. By creating such monstrous villains, Rambo is allowed to do all kinds of grotesque things to the bad guys, whether it be spilling their guts or ripping out their throats.

Supposedly Sylvester Stallone returned to his Christian roots before making Rocky Balboa but it doesn’t show here. If anything this is a more hateful and postmodern work than his previous films. The inclusion of missionaries doesn’t add anything thematically to the work, if anything they are portrayed as foolish and weak people. Perhaps the only real change is that the film recognizes Rambo for what he is: a killer. There’s no real attempt to redeem Rambo, it’s just a further descent into the violence and hate. And it’s not tragic, if anything it’s empowering.

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It’s sad to see the downward spiral of the writing through the series. The first film was very conflicted and ambiguous film as the bad guys weren’t evil. In a way, Rambo was the real troublemaker. By Part II the enemy was certainly bad, but there was still a question of Rambo reveling in the fighting. Once Part III rolled around anything went and Rambo (2008) takes it even further.

There’s a fifth installment in the works and my guess is that it will be yet another mindless, gore filled picture. The less restrained and controlled the films have become the less interesting they’ve been to watch. What was once a human and tragic veteran has become a mindless machine of blood and carnage. It’s boring to watch a hero we don’t care about. Rambo could die and I won’t even fell a pang of sorrow. Hell, as far as I’m concerned Rambo died at the beginning of Part III and all that’s left is some zombified version of Rambo used by necromancers to commit genocide on various racial groups.

© 2009 James Blake Ewing

Rambo [Blu-ray]