Movie Review: Rambo

Posted: January 24, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

Rambo (2008 Lionsgate Dir. Sylvester Stalone)

Oh me, oh my, oh Rambo. How I remember the Gung-Ho BS patriotism of Rambo: First Blood Part 2. That lovely childish one note rah-rahness that would embarrass a bright 12 year old. I remember being embarrassed upon seeing the silliness of RFBP2 when I was twelve and it came on cabal because Rambo III was just coming out at the time. Rambo III of course was scuttled by the Russians when they started to pull out of Afghanistan about three weeks before that movie opened, making it out of date on day one. So after twenty years, what could possibly bring Rambo back into the fray? Would you believe it’s the stupidity of religious people?

One hesitates to inject political meanings onto a movie, since it always reflects the person doing the injecting more than the movie. That’s always been my view anyway. It’s easy to see when the movie wears its message on its sleeve, like in the last two movies, but in this if there is a message it’s much more subtle. Strangely, I almost think someone gave Sly a copy of one of Richard Dawkins’ books or something because there seems to be a bit of an atheistic streak through the movie. It must be noted though that religious people are the source of all Rambo’s problems this movie. Maybe they wanted to paint the Christian missionaries as wimpy liberals or something, but since I have Christian missionaries as relatives… I can tell you that they ain’t liberals. They are so far from liberal that they think the Sermon on the Mount was a misquote. Well, that’s enough remembering the past and thinking, let’s start the movie.

The movie starts with some assembled news clips about what a screwed up place Burma is and how the military dictatorship has been acting like a bunch of dickweeds to the local populace. Then we’re shown a scene of violence against innocent people who are forced to run across a rice paddy that the soldiers have just mined and see who makes it across while betting on it. Now, from what I’ve read, this is actually how the Burmese military treats the people of their nation. That bit might be exaggerated, but there is enough reality that I don’t fault them. There has been a lot of claims that the baddies in this are cartoonish, and maybe they are, but it’s a 93 minute action movie and all we need to know is that these are really bad guys.

The entire background having been established we will not go to our paper thin plot! We find Rambo living in Thailand. He spends his time catching cobras and generally hanging out. He’s then approached by the plot of the movie. It seems some well meaning missionaries want to get into Burma to do well meaning missionary work. They ask Rambo if they can rent his boat to take them up the river to Burma. The nice Christian nit wit then outlays their whole motivation as characters in a few brief but elegant sentences. Again, allow me to reassure you, Christian missionaries really do talk like the guy in this movie. At first Rambo refuses to take them citing the desire not to enter the war zone that is Burma.

That’s where the cute girl enters in the form of Sarah Miller played by Julie Benz. Kudos to the production, they didn’t try to make Julie Benz look glamorous or beautiful or even made up. It’s very rare that an actress is shown without make up anymore, but Julie goes sans pancake in this and looks okay for it. Actually this is as good time as any to point out that this is a dirty, rough edged, mean little movie. It’s probably the movie that they wanted to make all along but studios like slickness. Anyway, the Sarah convinces Rambo to take them up the river.

While traveling up the river they get halted by some river pirates who offer to let the group off with just being lighting murdered if the hand over Sarah over for a nice gentle gang raping. Rambo however is sweet on the girl and instead of giving her up, guns down all pirates and they continue on their merry way. Rambo drops the missionaries off, they enter a village and then are promptly killed/captured when the military decides that the villagers have been just too damn idyllic for their liking and proceed to kill everyone but the white folk. Not that they intend to spare the white folk you understand, they just want to kill them slowly for a period of a couple of weeks.

The pastor of the group comes to Thailand and tells Rambo how the rest of the movie is going to go. You’ve got to love how the plot is laid out by one guy standing in the rain explaining everything. He explains that the group was kidnapped, that he’s hired mercenaries to get them back and would he please take the mercs to the place he dropped the missionaries off. Rambo offers to tag along with the group because he sort of has the idea that while these guys are white people, there maybe aren’t enough white Americans to really get the job done. That’s actually not fair, since there isn’t a lot of jingoistic “war is fun” B.S. that the earlier movies in the series were marred with. Sadly though, his offer is rejected by the group who didn’t check that his last name and the title of the movie are the same thing and thus don’t know who the hero in this picture is.

Rambo decides to join them anyway, announcing he has come with them by killing a bunch of soldiers that the group was sort of spying on. It’s taken half the movie’s runtime, but we’re finally treated to some good old fashioned Rambo style killin’. Rambo then takes control of the group and announces they’re going to save the girl. Then they enter the camp, save the missionaries and run away.

I’ve more or less covered about twenty minutes there and the only thing of note (besides some really excellent action) is one scene in which one of the mercs announces his views. One of the missionaries decides to be a pain, and the merc clearly states “God didn’t save you, we did!” which I found to be a fairly interesting little moment. There are a few moments like that, which lead me to wonder if there isn’t an anti-religious feeling growing or if it’s just Sly feeling a little cranky. Either way, it doesn’t really matter much because the movie’s action really doesn’t stop from here on out.

At this point the baddies start chasing after our heroes. The mercs and missionaries form one group, while Rambo, the sniper and Sarah are the other group. The baddies chase, group one gets caught, Rambo does what Rambos do best. Tiggers bounce Rambos kill Russians and South East Asians. And if you came to see your old buddy Sly kill himself some naughty South East Asians, then the next twenty minutes should make you pretty happy because he kills A LOT of them.

Not content to blow up a bunch of them (and their dogs) with a landmine/unexploded bomb combination, he then starts what is possibly the bloodiest few minutes in cinema history. It all starts at the 71 minute mark, which is Chapter #25 (Fire Power) on my DVD. You get to see Rambo take a guys had off with one stroke of his knife, use a 50 caliber machine gun on a guy 18 inches away from the barrel and then just generally start to prove that he does in fact know why you decided to spend the money to see this.

This is one the few places I’ve ever thought that practical effects aren’t as good as the CGI. Using CGI in this movie, they’ve managed to accurately simulate what it looks like to be hit by some of the weapons used in this movie (or so I’ve been told) which means that this is actually what guys being hit with one of these heavy machine guns looks like. And what looks like is a big damn mess. Legs get ripped off, huge holes are torn through bodies and blood splatters everywhere. Before having CGI assists for this, you’d have had little splurts from squibs and maybe an amputee with an appliance. Now you get this! There is actually a bit where the sniper shoots someone, causing the head to explode. It’s a completely practical effect, and I looks soooo fake. It looks like a dummy with an exploding head piece, proving they should have CGI’d that shot, which is something I never thought I’d say.

This is not a great movie, but it’s a pretty good movie. Stalone proves to be a good director, with a good sense of tension and action. The movie doesn’t try to be a deeply philosophical character piece, even though they do manage to have a couple of character moments. Mostly Rambo’s character is understood through the strong/silent bit, but it works and accomplishes what it tries to do. I think that’s the important thing, the movie is trying to be a nasty, mean, graphic war movie and it accomplishes that. If it comes off as escapist and maybe a little simplistic, well… that’s what we came for.

My copy of the DVD comes from the Rambo Complete Collector’s Set, which has all four movies and a couple of bonus DVDs. One of the bonus discs is a digital copy disc, which I find kind of useless, and the other is a real bonus disc with a good handful of features. This disc has a commentary from Stalone, which I’ve only listened to a little, where he manages to not just narrate what’s happening on screen. Not a band movie, but maybe one that would only appeal to those who want to see real nastiness on screen.

Official Score:
15 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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