Stallone paints the town red with the blood of Burmise soldiers in Rambo.
Truer words could not have been spoken when Sylvester Stallone scream slurred the post title towards the end of First Blood in 1982. Because with the next movie, the excellently titled Rambo: First Blood Part 2 the character became a mythical icon. The ultimate symbol of Reagan era military fantasy, the outsider (that makes him cool!) that single handedly kills legions of foreign armies and Russians for the American Way. The icon that went back to Vietnam and won the war on the silver screen that we lost years before in reality. A soldier that can literally hide himself in a wall of mud in seconds flat so he can pop out and slit the throat of Russian soldiers looking for him. The man that inspired many to pump themselves up at the gym so they too could walk around in combat fatigues and a red bandanna. As a symbol of merciless gung ho militarism, Rambo has been a pop culture reference point for the past 25 years. And with Stallone simultaneously reviving his career by putting the bow on his trademark characters, one that is ripe for a new movie.
And so last year saw the release of Rambo. That's all there is to the title believe it or not. It's not Rambo: First Blood Over The Top Rocky III Part 4. As with the start of all Rambo movies, he begins kinda isolated from others and brooding because he's, you know, seen stuff. A group of Christian doctors want to go into Burma to heal the poor and spread Christianity because of the military oppression there. They want to hire Rambo to use his boat to bring them in, which he's reluctant to do because he's seen stuff and can't communicate properly to them what's waiting in Burma. One of the group is a thin blond woman who sensitively talks Rambo to take them in.
Of course this is all stirring the pot for the big payback. The Christian doctors are captured by the dastardly Burmise military who kill, maim, torture and rape anything with a pulse. A group of mercs are brought in to rescue the Americans and need Rambo to bring them to where he dropped the docs off. And of course they diss Rambo the whole boat ride over because, you know, he can't properly communicate with others because he's seen stuff. The mercs find out how big a military force they're taking on and begin to cower and that's naturally when Rambo comes outta nowhere and shish ka bobs a half dozen bad guys with his bow and arrows. They agree to follow Rambo on a rescue mission to the bad guy base and that is where the real fun kicks in.
I won't give away the rest, not that there's much to give away if you've seen a Rambo movie before. I'm a big fan of Rambo movies for their hyper violent insanity. And while most sequels just rehash what was great about a film you've seen before, Stallone actually makes an artistic progression here. In this film, Rambo learns to accept himself and stops feeling ashamed of being a human killing machine. In a sense, so does Stallone.
The cartoonish action of the prior movies had a slightly cheesy edge that made them more mainstream. I mean First Blood had a slight sense of realism but Rambo 2 and 3 hit with comic strip force. The direction was a lot like the Rambo character, it was functional and not pretty to look at. With Rambo, Stallone gets all graphic novelly with his Apocalypse Now looking shots of tore up gun boats, smoky jungle and dark waters. The action is more detailed than any prior Rambo movie, killings in this movie often involved flying body parts and buckets of blood. I'm talking Japanese anime Quintan Tarantino Kill Bill level of blood here. Even children get slayed on screen, in full view of the camera.
Who knew Stallone could be this twisted and artsy this late in his career? Yes, I said artsy-in a blunt force trauma sort of way. Stallone revels in Rambo's amoral nihilistic universe as he protects well intentioned but naive Americans from the horrors of the Third world. Sure it's fantasy, yet Stallone makes a statement here. Is morality based on pure conviction or the comfort of being raised in a sheltered industrialized nation? It was food for thought as I watched Rambo slowly tear out the throat of a man who was preparing to rape the thin blond inside of a shack.
So when I look at this movie critically, I find that Rambo is the best of all the John Rambo films. You get jaw dropping audacity, stylish direction, and grisly gory action with fist pumping heart and a touch of social statement. The only false step is the ending, which seemed ridiculously tacked on although it serves its purpose of bringing the character "full circle".
While many may justifiably argue First Blood as the best Rambo movie, I prefer the mythical take on the character that came later. In that context, Rambo kill's 'em all. And you learn an important lesson: learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.