REVIEW: Rambo [2008]

“Live for nothing, die for something”

In what must be the most awkward sequencing of titles for a film franchise, the fourth installment, titled as though it was the first—Rambo, shows the side of the character that I was expecting while watching the first film. We get John Rambo in all his Green Beret glory, taking no prisoners and killing all in his wake; quite the departure from his introduction as a misguided ex-pat pushed too far into exploiting the bigotry and weakness of a local sheriff and his deputies. I guess having a faceless enemy in Asia helps aid in his lack of humanity. We don’t get any background on the Burmese people or general leading the charge. They are the bad guys and Rambo and his mercenaries are the good. I guess life is easier and a whole lot more brutal when it is so starkly black and white. The film is entertaining and surprisingly well put together, however, where the taut thrills and emotional/philosophical battles in Rambo’s head brought some depth to First Blood, the carnage and mostly silent soundtrack—besides the explosions and gunshots—of this new creation bring the adrenaline level to a boil if leaving any semblance of story way behind at the ten minute mark.

I think that Sylvester Stallone may speak fewer words here per minute than Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Terminator 2. His “thousand yard stare” is prevalent throughout and, while comical at times, delivers on its meaning. Here is a man beaten and done with America and all the hypocrisy of letting their people fight for freedom yet share in none of it upon their return. He has found his way back to the jungles of his rebirth as a killing machine, living a quiet life in Thailand, hunting snakes and ferrying people up the river. When a group of missionary aid doctors arrive, looking for transportation into Burma, he reluctantly acquiesces to their request. Only when those men, and woman, are captured does he feel the burn for blood and revenge. He doesn’t go back with the mercenaries hired to find them for complete bloodlust, though; he goes back because despite his warnings, these aid workers went into the chaos to help. They decided to live their lives with meaning, despite the consequences, and that dedication woke the sleeping giant inside of him.

Stallone is actually quite good, albeit a far cry from his debut in the role over two decades ago. He has the conflicted silent face down pat and the anger brewing inside perfectly released when necessary. As far as his writing goes, there isn’t all that much to the film besides finding a reason to go into Burma and take out some genocidal maniacs. Directing-wise is where the surprise came. How much credit goes to him and how much to his DP I don’t know, but the display of brutality is handled well through extreme close-ups and realistic dismemberment. He never shies away from showing off blood and guts, which at first was appropriate, then later a bit excessive. To show one or two heads explode is ok, when they keep coming, you start to get bored and realize he is doing it to cover up the lack of plot. The effects are totally just used to pad the runtime, but for what it’s worth, they do their job.

As for the supporting cast, we are given a lot of people in very small roles. Unlike First Blood, where we got a couple characters that were fleshed out fully and allowed us to either like or hate them, these people here are mostly just pawns used in the game. Julie Benz is actually not that good as Sarah, one of the missionaries. When we first see her she has a look of fear and shyness, not quite in her element while her boyfriend asks Rambo for help. However, when he is turned down, she all of a sudden takes control and works her feminine charm to gain his services. So, maybe it wasn’t her fault as an actress, but Stallone’s as a director. Whichever the case, her character just didn’t know exactly what it wanted to be. On the other hand, “24” regular Paul Schulze is great as the leader of the aid workers. He plays the prick well and as the film goes along, his evolution as a person is accurately portrayed. The mercenaries have their charms also. Tim Kang is a favorite of mine from his multiple commercials and it’s good to see him in a feature film while Matthew Marsden as Schoolboy is great playing the one gun for hire that has some morals and does it for more than just the money.

Whether not seeing the two entries that are sandwiched between First Blood and Rambo helped or hindered my enjoyment, I find the two films very nice companion pieces. We are first shown Rambo as a man trying to assimilate back into society and have compassion for his fellow man while also knowing he must get to them before they take him down. But then, with this new film, we get to see what it was that made him into who he is, the skills and ability to take down an entire army on his own. John Rambo is the consummate badass and Stallone shows that even with age, that stigma can come across and still not feel completely out of place.

Rambo 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Julie Benz (“Sarah,” left) and Sylvester Stallone (“John Rambo,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s Rambo.
[2] Rey Gallegos (“Diaz,”far left), Jake La Botz (“Reese,” second from left), Sylvester Stallone (“John Rambo,” rear), and Graham McTavish (“Lewis,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s Rambo.


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