Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rambo Revisited

We went to see Rambo last night--along with half the teenage boys in Dallas County. The theatre was packed.

If you don't remember (or never saw) the Rambo series, here's a cheat sheet on the three previous films. For the record, the first two Rambo movies would be on my top twenty action films list:
  • First Blood: Released in 1982, seven years after the official end of the Vietnam War, the film tells of a troubled veteran having difficulty adjusting to life in the States. Medal of Honor recipient John Rambo is now a drifter. He wanders into Hope, WA, looking for the only other survivor of his elite Special Forces unit, but learns his friend died of cancer as the result of his exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange. When the local sheriff--who doesn't like vagrants--tries to run Rambo out of town, Rambo fights back, using the skills that kept him alive in Vietnam. By the end of the film, Hope is in shambles, and Rambo is en route to prison.

The film was a hit, tapping into the ambivalence many Americans had for both the Vietnam War and its veterans. It depicted post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which as the result of a ground-breaking book in 1980 was only beginning to be understood at the time.

  • First Blood, Part II: Rambo is sprung from federal prison by his old commander, Colonel Trautman. Congress is trying to satisfy families of MIAs from the War by sending a fact-finding mission to see if there are any POWs still alive in Vietnam. The hope is that Rambo will document the fact that there are no U.S. soldiers still imprisoned. Instead, he locates POWs and tries to extract one. His team abandons him, and he's captured by the Vietnamese. He becomes a one-man war, destroying the camp and rescuing the POWs.

This film was a mega-hit, earning $300 million, more than twice what the first movie did. It was the second most successful film of 1985. Early in the film, Rambo asks Trautman, "Sir, do we get to win this time?" I suspect Americans, still smarting over the defeat in Vietnam a decade earlier, embraced the film because, through Rambo, they got to vicariously win "this time." Even President Reagan was a fan of the movie.

  • Rambo III: This film was released in 1988, three years after Part II. Rambo now lives a quiet life in Thailand, where he lives and works in a monastery. Colonel Trautman arrives and asks Rambo to help him deliver weapons to the Mujahedeen, the freedom fighters opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan. Rambo refuses but, when Trautman is taken prisoner by the Soviets, he flies to the rescue. The finale has Rambo and Trautman facing down the entire Soviet force in Afghanistan until the Mujahedeen arrive to help.

Stallone lost his sense of proportion with this film. It was over-the-top, and the finale was just plain silly. said: "Rambo III is the movie that killed the Rambo franchise for the next 20 years. " They were right.

Now, after that over-long build-up, here's my review of Rambo, the fourth film in the franchise.

It is probably the most gratuitously violent film I've ever seen. According to Wikipedia, there are a total of 236 kills or 2.59 kills per minute.

I got the impression that Stallone was trying to redeem the plot from the third film. Why he would pick the plot from the worst of the three movies to revisit is a mystery to me. Julie Benz, the female lead of the new film, came to the series without having seen it before. She said in an interview that Sly asked her to watch the first and second films, but not the third. That says to me he knew he blew the third movie. So why redo it?

This time, instead of the plight of the people of Afghanistan, Stallone focuses on the plight of the Christian Karen tribe in Burma (Myanmar). As the film opens, Rambo is again living quietly in Thailand. He owns a boat and earns a living by trapping poisonous snakes for exhibitions. A group of missionaries approaches him and asks to use his boat to deliver drugs and supplies to the Karen tribe. Rambo refuses.

Just like in Rambo III, the missionaries are caught and imprisoned. One by one, they are being fed to the pigs. Rambo agrees to go back in with a small team of mercenaries to try a rescue.

That's it. That's the ENTIRE plot. The dialogue is limited and stilted. There is no subtlety in the characters. They are all caricatures. The rest of the film is people being blown up, people being eaten alive, people being cut in half or having their throats ripped out, children being shot in the head or chest.

Stallone has been quoted in interviews saying he wanted to draw attention to the genocide in Burma. In my opinion, showing endless shots of people being slaughtered was not the way to do this.

It's obscene.

Stallone is in pretty good physical shape. If the film had any plot or heart, I would probably have enjoyed it. His age did not distract me. What DID distract me was his one-note performance. It consisted entirely of anger. What passed as a smoldering expression when he was younger came across as sullen now.

I'm guessing he decided he could not do the kind of physical performance he did in the earlier films. In the finale, he is manning a machine gun nest. All he does is cut people in half for ten minutes with that machine gun. It was simply gross.

I felt like I was watching a videogame where the object was to kill as many people as possible. Maybe that will appeal to some viewers. It didn't do anything for me.

1 comment:

lainey bancroft said...

Does sound obscene.

I'm a fan of Rocky and Rambo, but for Stallone to revisit roles from 25+ years ago, regardless of what shape he's in, makes me feel... embarrassed for him.

Instead of aging gracefully and building new characters with credibility, it's like he's grasping for the glory days.