Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone; Featurettes include: It’s a Long Road: The Resurrection of an Icon; Courage and Inspiration: The Musical Legacy of Jerry Goldsmith; Preparing a Warrior: Finishing Rambo; The Weaponry of Rambo; A Hero’s Welcome: The Rambo Premier and Reaction; Legacy of Despair: The Real Struggle of Myanmar.
SYLVESTER Stallone has already completed one unlikely comeback with his Rocky Balboa character and pretty much repeats the trick – albeit in bloodier, darker fashion – with John Rambo.
On this occasion, he tries to marry the gritty realism of the original First Blood with some of the larger than life exploits of parts two and three – but while this makes for an uneven mix in places, it’s still irresistibly good fun even though you’ll need a strong stomach for most of the journey.
Twenty years after Rambo last saw action in Afghanistan, the Vietnam veteran – now living peacefully in Thailand, catching snakes and fishing for the villagers – is approached by a group of missionaries (led by Paul Schulze and including Julie Benz) to take them up river into war-ravaged Burma.
Although reluctant, Rambo agrees and drops them off just beyond the border. But when they’re captured, he’s asked to return with a group of mercenaries (including ex-SAS men Graham McTavish and Matthew Marsden) on a rescue mission that has extremely violent consequences.
In updating the Rambo franchise for contemporary audiences, Stallone admits that he was faced with something of a dilemma: namely, which war zone to send the character into and just how to make his old-school approach to blood-letting fit into a military world defined by technology and precision strikes.
Rather than opt for a return to Afghanistan or even Iraq (which, he admits, would have been insulting), Stallone chose Burma – a country ravished by civil war and where human rights atrocities (according to his research) are committed every day. In doing so, the co-writer, director and star felt compelled to show war as it is – in graphic, gory detail – rather than tiptoeing around the issue.
The result is one of the bloodiest movies you’re likely to see in a long time: an experience that offers gang rape, decapitation and mutilation on a grand scale without ever feeling as though it’s allowing its camera to linger for sick kicks (unlike Eli Roth’s Hostel movies or those of its kind). This Rambo is a brutal, clinical movie that’s determined to shine a light on an ongoing hell on Earth.
But while it succeeds partly in doing that, Stallone is unable to avoid some of the wilder extravagances of the Rambo franchise. It still requires a huge suspension of disbelief, for instance, to accept Rambo as quite such an unstoppable killing machine (especially in light of his age), while some of the supporting characters simply don’t convince on any level.
The relief workers look, from the start, like lambs for the slaughter, while the mercenaries (especially McTavish’s laughably OTT leader) are a crass and unintentionally hilarious bunch of lads (and yes, that is ex-Coronation Street star Marsden among them!). Some of Stallone’s own sparse dialogue is also laughably clichéd.
The politics are so black and white, too, that there’s no attempt to explore the reasons behind the Burmese conflict or why the military acts like it does in the first place, presumably to allow their slaughter to be more guilt-free.
What’s left is a countdown to carnage that’s undeniably impressive on a straightforward action level, but which misfires completely as a hard-hitting attempt at social commentary.
Rambo fans will lap it up, however, revelling in the kick-ass machismo and no-nonsense violence, and positively whooping with delight whenever their hero goes to work with his crossbow and knife. And taken on those terms, the film is a genuine crowd-pleaser that ought to prove bullet proof to even the sternest criticisms. For this reviewer at least, it triumphed as an old school and unashamedly violent delight.
Running time: 93mins
UK DVD Release: June 23, 2008
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
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- Sylvester Stallone interview
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- Rambo misses out on UK top spot as Odeon chain blamed
- Odeon not showing Rambo on opening weekend
- Odeon not showing Rambo on opening weekend
- Rambo defeated by Spartans at US box office
- Read our preview
- Rocky Balboa coverage