Rambo ~ 2008, Sylvester Stallone, USA
Never before in all my days have I been as excited for a movie as I was after seeing the red-band trailer for Rambo. If a trailer is meant to generate interest and excitement, then this was, for me, probably the most effective any trailer has ever been. If I had to pick the second most effective, it’d probably be Massacre Mafia Style, but that’s a distant second place. Honest to goodness, folks, the low rez, red-band trailer for Rambo that I downloaded from whatever news site I found it on had me hyped up and chomping at the bit to see a roid-ravaged, 61 year old Sylvester Stallone mutilate wave after wave of hopeless Burmese militia men in a way that I had never before experienced. I was super into it.
So, what was it that got me so pumped? Well, the trailer was incredibly violent. Off to a good start. Secondly, it looked like a damn horror movie, only John Rambo was the monster. When it finally came out, I made it out to the theater on opening day, and lo and behold, this film 100% delivered. Rambo is a war movie that has more in common with Friday the 13th Part 2 than it does The Deer Hunter. I’m a big fan.
THE PLOT~ Having killed more humans than you’ve probably ever even met in his long, battle-hardened lifespan, John Rambo, one man army, has now retired, and has taken up residence to the balmy jungles of Asia, where he lives a life of seclusion working as a ferry boat operator. Having left the both the battlefield and the big city far behind him, Rambo now lives a peaceful life, with nothing but the roar of the surging river, the slither of poisonous snakes, and the endless screams of his countless victims ringing through his ears eternity, to keep him company.
Rambo attempts to murder water.
Until, that is, some naïve, do-gooder, Christian missionaries turn up and twist his arm for a boat ride up river. These bozos want to go into Burma, currently “a warzone”, to provide aid to the horribly oppressed natives in the region. Psh! What a bunch of dummies! Who are they to suggest to Rambo that compassion has any place in this world? For him, compassion is leaving your body intact enough that it can be identified as human! But, just as we knew he would, Rambo soon agrees to take them, and that’s the end of that chapter… At least, for a few weeks. Turns out that Rambo’s missionary friends wound up in some hot water, and now our man finds his doorway darkened by a band of mercenaries who have been hired to retrieve the would-be Christian soldiers from the jungles of Burma. Rambo figures “what the hell?”, and decides to tag along as well. What follows is a blood spattered jungle rampage that leaves 99% of slasher films looking like something Kindergarten classrooms would play during nap time.
This is how Rambo shows affection.
Firstly, damn, Stallone is freaking enormous. Go rewatch First Blood, he’s super ripped in that one, but compared to 2008 Stallone, the John Rambo of 1982 is straight up scrawny. Seriously, when did Stallone’s iconic dead eyes and big, rubbery trout lips become afxied to this lumbering juggernaut!? And he’s freaking 61 years old! He looks like a monster that ate the real Stallone and absorbed his powers. His voice is even scarier than it used to be, also, Sly’s always rested deep down in the nearly incomprehensible baritone burble we all remember from such classics as Rocky, Tango and Cash, or Cliffhanger, but in Rambo his voice is an even bassier, garbled croak than it has ever been before. Now it sounds like a bass guitar made out of rubber took the P90X challenge and decided it wants to kill you. Toss a hockey mask on this hombre and people would say “geez, Jason Voorhees needs a haircut.”
Just another day at the office.
Something about Rambo that is interesting, the film manages to both glorify, and demonize violence simultaneously, by presenting a clear “line in the sand” between the justified, and unjustifiable. When the baddies massacre our poor vilagers, Stallone pulls no punches. We see the gruesome, brutal wages of war with stark, shocking clarity. Children are stabbed to death, people are dismembered and burned alive, and none of this meant to feel “cool,” or “fun.” These portions of the film hope to make you feel angry, or even sick to your stomach, but it’s also setting you up to both appreciate, and condone Rambo turning the tables on the bad guys later. It is at that point that the violence is meant to feel satisfying and awesome, which, it really, really is. This attitude is likely an extension of Stallone’s Conservative mindset, and it’s not something that you get a lot of in major studio motion pictures in this day and age. It also explains why the film feels so much like a late 80’s teen pop slasher film; Rambo basically frames Stallone’s character in the same light that the later Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films did with their respective monsters, these are the guys we go to when we want to root for the person committing violent atrocities. As crazy as it sounds, with very minimal rewrites, this movie could have been made into a Friday the 13th film where the government captures Jason and drops him into Burma. And actually, let’s find a way to get THAT movie made.
From a technical perspective, Rambo is both impressive, and embarrassing. Stallone has managed to step into the sleek, digital aesthetic of today’s genre film with surprising ease, and for the most part, the movie is very well done. We only run into trouble when the film tries to use digital effects, which it does in great abundance, and at that point Rambo suffers from the all too common “excellent practical effects in tandem with utterly unforgivable digital fumbles” pitfall. Probably the worst example of the digital dogshit heaped into the picture comes from the film’s single most crucial kill, when our hero slices open the belly of the film’s main bad guy at the end of the movie. We get a shot of his intestines spilling out as Rambo kicks his corpse down a hill, but the all gore is added in digitally in post, and it looks awful. It’s on par with the friggin’ Playstation, and when I say that, I mean the original Playstation, from 1994. This is supposed to be the film’s ultimate pay off, and honestly, it’s so bad it shouldn’t even have made it into the final cut.
Get it?! Final CUT?!! Harharhar (many, many people die in this movie.)
But really, who cares? Rambo is damn near perfect. If they had stuck to all practical effects and cut out the shameful digital clownsmanship that bogs the picture down, then what we’d have here would be the best possible Rambo movie 2008 could produce. As it is, it’s the second greatest Rambo movie ever, leaving Parts 2 and 3 in the dust. It’s also a must for fans of action cinema, and for gore aficionados as well. I own this shit on DVD and Blu-Ray, and when they come out with the next stupid home video format (assuming we don’t all just jump to streaming, knock on wood), I’ll be rebuying it immediately. I feel a lot better knowing I have immediate access to the picture at literally anytime.