a critiQal film review Rambo (2008)

Plot: Rambo (Stallone) is recruited by a group of Christian missionaries to ferry them down the river during a humanitarian aid delivery to the persecuted Karen people of Burma. After some of the missionaries are taken prisoner by sadistic Burmese soldiers, Rambo goes back into battle to help a team of mercenaries try to rescue the surviving relief workers.

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A mere 20 years after the rather silly Rambo III (1988) hit theaters, Sylvester Stallone (trying to re-invigorate another of his film series) brings us Rambo – and from the previews, it looks like the violence in the first 3 films was pretty tame in comparison.

After getting the chance to re-visit the first three Rambo films, I wasn’t actually too excited to see this 4th film. After so many years, First Blood (1982) seems to have been the only one of the 3 to survive intact – the other 2 having been weighed down by new perspectives and higher expectations from audiences.

Still, since I had already spent the last day and a half watching the other 3 films, I felt I needed to finish up by checking out the new film – especially since that was the whole reason for watching the previous 3 in the first place. So would Stallone be able to resurrect this limping series, or would the new Rambo be the worst one yet?

Stallone returns, of course, as main character John Rambo. Gone are the days of the chest-baring muscle-bound war hero…now he’s just a boatman in Thailand. Instead of capping his arrows with explosive tips, he now uses them to spear fish.

Stallone has done a good job of transitioning of his heyday as an action star to his new role as an aged hero. His characters still have fight left in them, but they have grown weary as they’ve aged, and are not the same men audiences have seen before.

It’s a nice change for him, and he really brings a lot more to the character now that his muscles don’t do all of his talking. His characters are more thought out, and there is reasoning behind their actions.

They don’t throw themselves blindly into the fray. Instead, they recognize their own mortality, and so does the audience – a far cry from the not-a-scratch Rambo of Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). This sense of mortality that Stallone is bringing to his characters recently really helps the audience to connect to them on a somewhat more emotional level, which helps to draw the audience into the film.

That’s not to say that this entry is the thinking man’s Rambo – it’s not. When the previews suggested this film had more blood-n-guts than it’s predecessors, they weren’t kidding. Body parts, blood and brains fill the screen for a lot of the film once the action gets going – but that sense of morality surrounding the character keeps the viewer tuned in, almost in spite of the horrors they are seeing on screen.

A nice twist in the plot for this new Rambo – John Rambo no longer can get the job done alone. He needs help, and he gets it in this film thanks to a rogue bunch of mercenaries. Sure, he does a lot on his own still, but when the chips are down, the team comes together.

Could the Rambo team be the next step for the series? Probably not (Stallone has learned to share the screen somewhat over the years – but not that much). Still, it’s nice seeing the beginnings of a unit like that on-screen at least once.

Like Rambo III (1988) tried to do with Afghanistan, Rambo also uses the film as a vehicle to showcase the horrors happening daily right now in Burma. While that has backfired for Rambo III (1988) thanks to Osama Bin Laden and pals, Burma so far remains a cause worth getting behind.

While there is more on-screen violence than ever before, this new take on John Rambo does a much better job of involving the viewer. Whereas Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988) were popcorn flicks whose glory has since faded, Rambo has enough going for it to keep it standing strong many years down the road.

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