Posted on May 27, 2008 at 6:00 am
Same “stick it to the man” story. Same stoic, emotionally damaged but still a fighting machine (mean, yes; lean, not so much) who can take on a hundred guys with guns because he is so well trained and so pure of heart.
Also because he wrote and directed it.
Yes, Rambo is back. We first met him in 1982’s
First Blood (The Man = abusive cops), followed by Rambo – First Blood Part II (The Man = Viet Cong and corrupt politicians) and Rambo III (The Man = Soviets in Afghanistan). Twenty years later, there are still bad guys that only the last true morally righteous person on earth — or an aging movie star looking for an audience — can take on. For tonight’s performance, the part of The Man will be played by the military junta that controls Burma.
John Rambo (writer-director Sylvester Stallone) now lives in Southeast Asia, where he supports himself by catching cobras and is more comfortable with poisonous snakes than with people. He reluctantly agrees to take a group of American Christian human rights missionaries to Burma on boat, even though the military have been killing the Christian Karen rebels and anyone who tries to help them. They are captured, and Rambo agrees to take another group after them, military mercenaries hired by the church to rescue the missionaries. But this would not be a Rambo movie unless he had to be called in to save the day. And we all know what that means: an hour or so establishing the set-up (basically, Rambo is good, the blonde (Julie Benz) is pure of heart, and everyone else is either ineffectual, corrupt, evil, or all of the above), followed by the big moment when Rambo takes on pretty much everyone and shows them all a thing or two about what fighting really means. That first part is supposed to justify the carnage of the second part and make it all feel not just right but necessary.
Subtlety is not this movie’s strong point. It is not enough that the bad guys are viscious killers who capture young boys and turns them into soldiers, raping and killing everyone else and burning the villages. They also have to bet on which villagers will get blown up in a race over land mines, spear babies, and be led by a pedophile.
And then there’s the violence, which is relentless and extremely, viscerally graphic. Body parts are hacked off or pulvarized. Heads explode into a mist of blood. We see the detonation of a left-over WWII “Tall-Boy” bomb (second only to the atomic bomb in power at the time), land mines, shooting, punching, stabbing, and a veritable encyclopedia of mayhem. It loses all meaning and becomes a numbing barrage of blood. We end up wondering how the special effects were achieved instead of investing in the outcome. Stallone has those Popeye forearms and still sports the 80’s headband over the still-black hair, but he now wears a caftan-like shirt to cover his paunch. Benz seems to be stopping by from the 1950’s, with nothing to do but be the focus of the tough guy’s tender thoughts and do some damsel-in-distress gasps of horror and amazement. Matthew Marsden conveys more of a character in a couple of lines as a sharpshooter than Stallone does with all of his hard-eyed stares.
Movies like this one are supposed to give us heroes who live out our fantasy of surmounting all of the obstacles of the system, to relieve the frustrations of ambiguity by giving us something simple and clear, to give us the satisfaction of justice and balance. But Rambo is in too much of a time warp. While he has been brooding in the jungle, the world has moved on. There are still corrupt regimes committing atrocities; it is just harder to feel a sense of progress or redemption through wholesale killing.
Parents should know that this is an exceptionally graphic and violent film with some of the most grisly and disturbing images ever to appear in a mainstream Hollywood release. Body parts are blown off, hacked off, and pulvarized. Characters are made to race across fields while others bet to see which one will hit a landmine first. Characters pillage and raze towns, taking young boys to become soldiers and raping and killing everyone else. There is implied child sexual abuse. Characters use very strong language, smoke, and drink. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of committed (if foolishly risk-taking) missionaries.
Families who see this movie should talk about who was right about our ability to create change? Should Rambo have agreed to take the missionaries to Burma? They may want to find out more about the ethnic conflict in Burma (now called Union of Myanmar by its military leaders). They should look at current assessments of the conflicts there issued by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the earlier films and similar sagas like the Die Hard series and Under Siege.