johnlink ranks RAMBO (2008)
I had not even thought about the Rambo series in years. When I threw on FIRST BLOOD a little over a week ago, it was purely on a whim. I just finished the series, seeing the fourth installment for the first time. I had heard, surprisingly, some encouraging things about this movie. I found myself actually getting a little bit excited to see this, which came as a total surprise to me.
I watched RAMBO (2008) on 2.4.13. It was my first viewing of the film.
This is a supremely violent and brutal film. It goes to places that none of the previous Rambo movies went. If the first movie is a careful calculation regarding the nature of returning Vietnam vets, and the second and third movies were popcorn-violent action flicks, then this fourth movie is an attempt to turn the activism of the first and the popcorn-violence of the next two into something both entertaining and thought-provoking.
It sort of succeeds. On the one hand, you can’t watch this without thinking ‘Why have I not heard more about the atrocities of Burma’, on the other hand you also can’t help but think ‘did we really need to watch those kids get murdered on screen in a Rambo movie?’
Context matters. In SCHINDLER’S LIST we knew what we were getting into. We knew we were going to see evil depictions of violent sub-humans. Rambo, over the course of its sequels, had turned itself into pop-violence. It was safe to consume, even as Stallone shed a little light on the plights of Afghans. He comes to this film, twenty years later, and he’s not fucking around. Say what you will about the fact that Stallone is in his 60s and probably too old to cut it as a believable action star, but he absolutely brings an intensity to this project both in acting and directing. This is the first Rambo film directed by Stallone, though he had been a co-writer on each of the previous ones as well. The direction in this is nice. Stallone shoots a love-letter to the jungle, and we are privy to plenty of wonderfully composed shots of natural beauty (which feels weird to say in a RAMBO movie).
The story follows almost the exact same beats as RAMBO III. He turns down a mission. He is convinced to go in anyway after danger strikes. He proves himself to unsuspecting people. He works out a rescue. This new RAMBO is more nuanced in some of those beats (which also feels weird to say), with the inclusion of other military types who serve as different facets of his mind. The team leader is pure ego while the carefully considered School Boy (a pet name for the team’s sniper) is the conscious. Which way will Rambo lean? We know before we meet them, but it allows the conversation to play out loud for the audience.
The rescue scene serves as more satisfying action than the finale. The picture above comes from the final scene and, if you can’t guess, it involves Rambo cutting people down with a giant gun. It’s supposed to serve as catharsis after seeing just how brutal and terrible the bad guys are, and I suppose it works on a certain level. The rescue scene, on the other hand, is nuanced and more dangerous. I think the tone of the two could have been switched, but I’m just a lowly movie critic, I’m not writing the scripts.
On the whole, this is a good experience. It perhaps pushes the envelope more than is necessary, but it at least doesn’t try to be safe. High quality action, and a nice finale to the series which puts a button on the whole thing with a final shot that mirrors the series opening. This movie is surprisingly worthwhile, even if it is not of the thematic value of the original.
FILM: 6; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 6
FINAL SCORE: 6.5