Electricity & Lust

Review: Rambo

Posted in film, review, Sam by Sam Unsted on February 25, 2008

Dir: Sylvester Stallone
Rating: 2/5

So long on, Sly decides to make another long-‘awaited’ sequel, this time for his Vietnam vet and socio-military revisionist John Rambo. First Blood, his debut outing, stands up extremely well. It remains a well rendered exploration of veteran treatment in the US and just an elegant, quality movie closer to the spirit of the 1970s in which Rocky was born rather than the muscle-clad 80s action porn that Rambo would eventually come to personify.

John Rambo, or just Rambo as it now seems to be called, is the most overtly politicised of the films. The opening montage of atrocities in Burma, under military rule since 1962 and a constant centre for human rights violations, is hard-hitting documentarian style preaching. It’s necessary, Burma remains a problem that won’t be sorted by US forces because of its lack of raw materials to entice the Americans, but seems incredibly hard-hitting for a film in the Rambo series.

The actual movie concerns a group of Christian missionaries going in to Burma, using Rambo as their guide, and getting into a sizable amount of trouble as they enter a small village on the map of guerilla soldiers. The attack on the village in which the missionaries are working is as shakingly violent a set of war footage as anything I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan. The violence is all exit wounds and flying limbs, explosions of blood from land mines and bodies breaking in two from bullet wounds. The rest of the film doesn’t shirk either, delivering a body count in the hundreds but not in the style of 80s action, no theatrical falls here. If someone is going to die, Stallone is going to make sure you understand the full horror of the person’s death.

So from here it really is just Rambo and a team of annoying mercenaries moving in on the Burmese and killing everything in site brutally, coldly and without remorse. Stallone works hard to make the Burmese truly evil, throwing in rapists, child killers and a paedophile to really hammer it home. Yet you feel that the violence handed out is on an almost biblical scale, lending a muddiness to the politics. Stallone seems to show the Christianity going into to Burma, the American evangelical mission to give religion to the troubled people, as a useless tool. Handing out love and bibles broker no mercy from the soldiers, one of the missionaries even having his limbs blown off as he flees. As Rambo warns Julie Benz in an early scene, if they don’t have guns, ‘they won’t change anything’.

The politics do get muddy. The story is explicitly about Burma but the religious parallels the narrative with the Iraqi conflict. Rambo himself though seems to fit poorly into the political story, simply killing everything in site while miraculously saving the majority of the good guys. The conclusion of the film, after a bloodbath on some scale, really speaks more to the character than the metaphor. He shows Rambo to be away from these people, these peaceful missionaries. He is a war machine comfortable in the situation and can never live inside their world, killing is too easy for him. Perhaps this is another comment on veterans and their inability to fit back into the world.

That would be a stretch and the film probably doesn’t quite deserve it. It’s closest relative is probably The Passion of the Christ, a biblical depiction of violence and struggle, inflicted on others here rather than on the central character. I suppose the problem here though is the expectation of the audience. Rambo’s first outing may be a politically astute piece of work but the later films were shoot and stab fests and that’s what you’d have to expect. This wants to be something intensely moving and disturbing but ends up being a near-Romero carnival of gore and horrors.


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