Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rambo (2008) Review

Fans of First Blood and the sequels get the best of both worlds in this satisfactory finale to the series

You know, when Sylvester Stallone announced that he was making another Rocky movie, I groaned about the thought of yet another, especially after the previous movie was a downbeat pile of shit. It was then to my great surprise that he actually managed to make an ok movie and actually gave Rocky's story a happy ending, something Rocky V failed to do. Then he announced that he would also be returning to the other character he was famous for, John Rambo. Now unlike Rocky, Rambo doesn’t exactly have much material to work with except, well, blowing shit up, so as expected I moaned some more. But then something happened, the red band trailer for the movie surfaced and I was blown away by its ruthless and bloody carnage and I thought, oh my God, this could be a good movie too. And you know what, it was. In fact, I enjoyed it even more than Rocky’s comeback.

Plot Synopsis: The movie begins with a couple minutes of real life footage that set up the conflict in Burma (or Myanmar) and then follows suit by showing the same atrocities on film. People are shot, burned, raped, tortured, and various other horrible acts including a game of, "Let's bet which person walks on a mine first." We are then reintroduced to John Rambo, who has now taken up solitude in a Thai village as a snake catcher. When a group of religious missionaries asks him to take them up river so they can help out the villagers being hurt, he at first refuses but eventually agrees. Then when the missionaries go missing, their pastor asks Rambo to bring a team of mercenaries into the jungle so they can extract the missionaries before they’re killed. As expected though, the mercenaries are not enough, and that’s where Rambo comes in.


The plot's pretty threadbare, but you didn’t come to a Rambo movie for deep storytelling, you came to see Rambo kill people, and boy does he kill people. The scenes in the beginning and middle of the movie are clearly inspired by the realistic and thoughtful nature of First Blood. Questions of morality and what does killing accomplish are present throughout these scenes and set the movie up for more later on. When John begins to kill the terrible Burmese soldiers, we at first start to root for him but then realize that he’s doing the same things that these soldiers are doing to the villagers. It makes us wonder whether we should be cheering him on, especially since we were just being shocked at the same things done by the soldiers. Fans of the sequels who want a mindless action movie may be disappointed at this, but those who praised First Blood should feel right at home. The movies climatic shootout (it’s a doozy) however, should have the opposite effect on filmgoers. What starts out as a shocking and realistic surprise attack on the soldiers, eventually turns almost into self-parody as Rambo pretty much kills about half of the whole army. The blood levels go into overdrive and rather than being shocked, I actually started laughing at the whole thing, and this sequence just seems to keep going on and on. If this were in one of the other sequels, it would fit in fine, but since the tone of the movie has been built on First Blood, it’s out of place.


Stallone has somehow been able to find the humanity in Rambo again after the mindless sequels. Rambo is now back to the quiet and scarred war hero that we last saw in First Blood. He is a man who knows that he is a killing machine on the inside and hates himself because of this. Unfortunately, every other character in the movie is either barely one-dimensional or has almost no presence whatsoever. This hurts the movie because although the Burmese soldiers are more brutal and scary than the Vietnamese from old, there is no particular person that we solely root against. Sure the pedophile general is labeled as the main villain, but he is so one dimensional and uninteresting that he makes no lasting impression.

As a continuation and finale for the series, it ends on the perfect note (after the last shootout) and finally brings the character full circle to his ultimate destination. As a typical movie, it’s not so good. But as an action movie, it provides an entertaining and old fashioned, if lightweight, time at the movies.


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