Rambo (2008) Review

  • Year: 2008
  • Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
  • Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden
  • Written by: Art Monterastelli, Sylvester Stallone

There’s a resurgence of old Hollywood legacies lately and our old Vietnam veteran, Medal of Honor-winner, John Rambo follows suit with the fourth installment of the Rambo series, simply titled Rambo. No gimmicky taglines added this time, at least not in the States, anyway. When last we saw our friend John (Sylvester Stallone), he was rescuing his mentor Colonel Trautman from Afghanistan. In part four, Rambo finds his solace as a boatman and part-time snake handler just beyond the border of war torn Burma. For a guy who’s gone Buddhist, he sure likes to stay close to unmitigated conflict.

One day, a group of American philanthropic Christians, from Colorado no less, seek out Rambo to ferry them up the river so that they can deliver much needed medical supplies and attention to the hapless villagers suffering at the hands of the local military. Against his better judgment, Rambo allows himself to be persuaded by some faulty logic and brings the group of doctors into Burma. They, of course, get captured and it’s up to Rambo to save the day.

The last Rambo was released in 1988. With a 20-year gap, you can’t help but be a little skeptical. Watching Die Hard 4 it was obvious that too much time had passed since the last film and Bruce Willis and the writers had forgotten the character and the world of John McClane. Fortunately, John Rambo is not as colorful as John McClane, so it wasn’t difficult for Stallone to slip back into the role. Just walk around with a serious face and you’re set. To look at Stallone, he’s definitely older, but if you don’t remember the previous films very well, you won’t think of him as being old, since his physique has has held up well. Unfortunately, there’s a brief flashback scene of the other films when Stallone was in his prime and to come back to the present version of Stallone will make you wince.

All of that is forgivable. It’s a new Rambo for a new generation. All of his fans are 20-years older, too, so I’m sure they can relate. And that’s why this film is a success: It was made for the fans. Where Die Hard went astray and attempted to please the masses with its PG-13 rating and overcooked plot, Rambo sticks it out with an R rating, simple plot and over-the-top action/violence.

While I applaud the film for its gusto, I think it overshot its mark as well. The violence in the film is a bit disquieting. I don’t mind watching people die or get blown up, but the level of human butchery maintained consistently over several portions of the film puts me off. Now that I think about it, the film, as a whole, is pretty heavy-handed. The bad guys aren’t just bad guys. They’re the most evil bad guys in the world. They shell innocent villagers. They force women to entertain them and then rape them. They take bets on which POW will win/survive a race across a mine field. The bad guy leader even molests little boys. All that was missing was to see them clubbing baby seals and taking hairdryers to the polar ice caps. Still, this works to the film’s advantage, because we get to enjoy the righteous havoc Rambo wreaks down on them with his BFG.

The writing here is fairly simplistic and the same can be said for the story itself. Even at feature-length running-time, you’ll probably feel like the movie was short. That’s because not much happens and we don’t really get to know any of the characters. The first half of the film is spent with the group of doctors. The second half is spent with a group of mercenaries who are sent in to rescue the first group. There’s really no time to attach yourself to anyone, though the film does a great job introducing you to the mercs, who are the highlight of the film. They really feel like soldiers of fortune with their disheveled attire and thrown-together gear.

I was a kid when I saw the previous Rambo films, but I think they still hold up well today. This new Rambo is a nice addition to the trilogy, but also doesn’t quite fit. Still, it’s definitely worth a look for fans and newcomers alike.