Release Date: January 25th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sylvester Stallone Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Graham McTavish, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Jake La Botz
wenty years after “Rambo III” (and only two years after Rocky 6), Sylvester Stallone returns to reprise his seminal ‘80s action film role John Rambo, a Vietnam veteran who has trouble reestablishing himself back into regular life. In an attempt to distance himself from uncomfortable normalcy, he holes up in various remote locations and gets by with his expert knowledge on survival. In “Rambo,” he is driven to the anarchical land of Burma, where a 60-year-old civil war keeps the impoverished villagers in constant fear of tyrannical regimes. But as one-man armies usually demonstrate, Rambo is most assuredly not a man to be trifled with.
This fourth installment in the famous soldier-of-fortune series finds John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in northern Thailand as a boat captain, still entirely disenchanted with the world and seemingly far removed from humanity and emotions. When a group of human rights activists convinces the weary commando to transport them upriver into war-torn Burma, they are expectedly captured not long after their arrival in a local village that is raided and pillaged. Rambo is then charged with a second mission: to lead a team of ragtag mercenaries on a dangerous rescue agenda into a hellish militia camp, where death is the easiest way out.
The portrayal of violence in films is often used to demonstrate a specific point, such as comedic excessiveness, realism, political seriousness, a demand for bloodthirstiness, or even to show a highly stylized sense of artistry. In “Rambo,” gratuitous violence for the sake of encouraging cheers from an enthusiastic teen crowd is perhaps the only reason for such brutally graphic bloodshed. Still, it is undeniably thrilling. Where “Rambo III” featured a stick-fight introduction in which the titular hero squares off against a skilled martial artist, exchanging dozens of blows with wooden bludgeons, this latest chapter doesn’t showcase any of that flamboyant, cartoon violence; instead, it attempts to show every dismemberment and evisceration with as much attention to gory detail as possible. The carnage here is not Popeye fun – it is stomach-churning. Art it is not, though for unabashed gut-wrenching excitement, it positively takes the cake.
The introduction of a helping hand for Rambo is something fresh, even though in the previous films he is never completely alone. In the devastated battlefields of Burma, a group of well-paid adventurers provides brief camaraderie and military aid for the lonesome juggernaut (although at one point, he’s forced to rescue the elite troopers right alongside the humanitarians). Each soldier imparts a unique personality, much like the colonial marines in “Aliens”: one with an over-the-top penchant for cursing, one with schoolboy charm, one with unflinching heroism, and another plagued by constant doubt. Likeable in hardened ruffian ways, their interactions with Rambo help to develop his typical one-dimensional character. The young woman, Sarah (Julie Benz), who convinces John to accommodate them in the first place, is an initial driving force; later, the brutality against the villagers fuels Rambo to “live for nothing, or die for something.”
If ultra-bloody violence is your cup of tea, then there’s certainly plenty to drink up with Stallone’s newest nonstop thrill-ride. A suitably simple premise sets up a final confrontation as roughshod as any committed to celluloid; the explosive firefight unleashes nearly twenty minutes of pure, unrelenting havoc that simultaneously pushes the boundaries of action and bloodletting. As John states early on, “when you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing.” With machinegun battles that leave little more than human pulp, claymore explosions that wipe out the jungle in nuclear mushroom cloud fashion, grenades that dismember villagers with gushing red barrages, machete disembowelment, and decapitations galore, “Rambo” is not for the squeamish, but most definitely for those who want to see heads roll and the body count reach unspeakable proportions in a most exhilarating fashion.
– The Massie Twins