There’s a scene that arrives early in Sylvester Stallone’s bloody 2008 action extravaganza Rambo (aka John Rambo) that should, in theory, help soothe the irritated souls of those who believed this unnecessary sequel wouldn’t capture the balls-out intensity of our hero’s previous adventures. The sequences, without giving too much away, is a brutal, uncompromising confrontation with a boat full of scruffy pirates who would love nothing more than to have their way with the lily-white American optimists they’ve discovered sneaking through their territory. With nothing but a sidearm to guide him, Rambo deals an insane amount of damage to his respective enemies, thereby setting the tone for the chaos that follows.
And when I say “chaos,” I mean the type of disturbing, grue-soaked cinematic mayhem one generally doesn’t find in American cineplexes these days. Women are raped and murdered, children are shot and burned, Christian missionaries are hung in derelict barns and fed to ravenous pigs — not your typical Sunday matinee material. So coarse is the on-screen violence that even yours truly found himself shifting uncomfortably in his seat, grimacing as babies are indiscriminately blasted into oblivion by squadrons of militant goons hellbent on death and destruction. In other words, Rambo definitely isn’t for those with weak constitutions or a low tolerance for unabashed cruelty.
The story, which takes place twenty years after the events of Rambo III, concerns itself greatly with our favorite tightly-wound Vietnam veteran, a man who has been living peacefully as a mysterious snake wrangler within the vast junglescape of Thailand. It’s a career decision which doesn’t involve shooting, spearing, slashing, or crushing a cluster of heavily-armed soldiers by any means necessary. Or so he thinks. Before too long, a group of Mid-Western Christians show up to spread their medicine, their skills, and their religious agenda around a small village deep within the heart of Burma. After being sweet-talked by a striking blonde (Julie Benz) whose husband needs a serious attitude adjustment, John reluctantly agrees to aid these kind-hearted boobs on their spiritual mission.
Naturally, things go horribly wrong once the Christians begin dispensing their patented brand of Jesus-related good will. The village they’ve chosen to heal is attacked by a deranged general and legion of gun-totting goons, lots of people are savagely slaughtered, and most of the Americans — the ones who aren’t blown to smithereens, that is — are gathered, bound, and transported into the heart of this war-torn country. Their fates now rest in the oh-so capable hands of a gaggle of professional mercenaries and, yes, John Rambo, who is more than willing to massacre an entire country of blood-thirsty warriors in order to rescue these naive individuals from certain doom.
For the latest installment of this wildly popular franchise, Stallone has smartly decided to play up Rambo’s age; not once will you find him shirtless and glistening, performing the sort of insane stunts that would, most likely, cause him to damage a section of his distorted physique that would put him out of commission for the rest of his days. Gone is the strapping, reckless Rambo of yesteryear; in his place is a gnarled, bitter, misplaced product of the American armed forces, a character who has more in common with the angry young man we met way back in First Blood than the one found lurking in its first two sequels. Stallone has, essentially, stripped the man down to the basics, and the film is much stronger because of it.
However, to boldly proclaim that Rambo has lost his edge would be more than a little misleading. In fact, this particular outing might be one of the goriest action movies to violently thrust itself from the Hollywood machine in several years. In addition to the women and children who encounter various forms of grisly death throughout the picture, there are numerous set pieces which involve the juicy dismemberment and/or complete obliteration of the titular character’s enemies, of which there are hundreds. I’m not sure how many people bite the proverbial dust over the course of the story, but it’s an impressive number for sure. The final twenty minutes are without a doubt the bloodiest in recent memory.
Rambo is a brave, unapologetic spectacle, an adrenaline rush of the purest kind. It’s the sort of old-school American action movie you don’t see much of these days, especially in your neighborhood’s oversized, overpriced multiplex. And while I do believe that some of the on-screen carnage is a bit too much to swallow at times, that doesn’t stop the film from providing the prospective viewer with 90 minutes of solid entertainment. Even if you’re not a fan of the previous films in the series, chances are this raw, uncomplicated entry will appeal to that deep, dark side of your cinematic personality. Sylvester Stallone should definitely be proud of what he’s accomplished: He’s taken a very familiar character and effectively updated him without compromising anything in the process. Impressive? You bet.
And do keep your fingers crossed for that director’s cut.