- Well, on Friday, a squad of merciless mercs were assembled with one mission and one mission only - to infiltrate project: RAMBO and report back on the status of one of film's most legendary action heroes. Well my friends, I have returned from the deepest darkest jungles of Hollywood and am here to testify ...
... to testify that RAMBO totally owned it.
Yes friends, regular readers of my movie reviews know that I have a low tolerance for mindless Hollywood crap and that I'm always looking to spread the word when it comes to thoughtful, intelligent films. But dammit all, sometimes a movie comes along that is bad in all the best ways, but kicks ass in all the right ones.
RAMBO is that movie, and let me tell ya', Stallone is on a roll. When ROCKY BALBOA was gearing up for its release in late 2006, many haters came out of the woodwork to diss on the premise, myself included. But the sixth and final Rocky proved to be a hell of a flick - a movie filled with heart that hearkened back to the glory days whilst giving one of cinema's greatest heroes a fitting send-off. Well, I'm happy to report that, as Rocky Balboa was to the Rocky franchise, so too is Rambo to the series of films that kicked off way back when with a little action piece known as FIRST BLOOD. Rambo is a movie to get your blood pumping, to make you stand up and clap, to raise your adrenaline levels to the breaking point and jump on your chair and shout "USA!"
No, Rambo isn't a movie for stuffy critics. It's not a movie for chick-flick-lovin' ladies or high-falutin' indie-kids who have forgotten how to have *fun* at the theater. Nope, this is a movie for that inner-fourteen-year-old in all of us, the kid who stayed up late at night watching Stallone movies on cable and wondering what they looked like in their non-edited-for-TV versions. This is a movie for people who appreciate the greatness of a good, old-fashioned, all-American ACTION FLICK. The kind of no-holds-barred movies that they used to make, the kind where men were men and the violence was brutal and unadulterated. I'm talking about the days when larger than life heroes filled our screens thanks to icons like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis - in the days when it was a given that if a new Die Hard movie came out, it'd damn well be R-rated.
And the thing is - there is a certain brilliance when an action movie gets it right, as Rambo does. At times, us discerning movie-goers might cringe at the heavy-handed dialogue or simplistic plot that at times make us giggle in this one. But really - would we have it any other way? Do we really want Rambo, of all people, talking in Coen Brothers-esque dialogue. This is Rambo, not Gilmore Girls. This is broad, iconic, larger than life - the stuff of comic books and pro wrestling and all the things that make boys want to be men and men want to be *real* men. And when a master of the balls-to-the-wall action genre like Stallone hits one out of the park like this, well, it may be a different sort of brilliance as compared to a There Will Be Blood or a No Country For Old Men, but it's brilliance all the same.
Like Rocky Balboa was to the first Rocky, the latest Rambo serves as a great thematic bookend to the original First Blood. And that's what you've got to love - the characterization here is broad, simple, not complex, but it works. It's archtypal - Rambo is the shunned warrior, the lone wolf, the modern day samurai - a "ronin" if you will as he is long removed from his heyday in Vietnam, adrift without his comrades in arms or his leaders like Colonel Trautman (appearing here in flashback form). No, this Rambo is a lost soul, now totally removed from anything resembling a normal life, a hunter in the jungles of Thailand who rarely speaks and has essentially cut himself off from any kind of emotion or human connection.
So, I think everyone knows how things play out. A group of Christian missionaries tries to recruit Rambo to guide them to Burma on a mission of mercy. They finally convince him to come along, but once they get there and Rambo has left them behind, the village they're visiting gets massacred by the vicious Burmese government, with most of the Americans getting captured in the process. Rambo gets called back in, hooks up with a team of international mercenaries, and is forced to once again embrace his true nature - that of an uncontrollable killing machine.
And yeah, the whole thing is 100% badass. Sure, there's some stilted dialogue and annoying overacting, especially in the first half of the movie, but as soon as Rambo kicks into high gear in its second half, its nonstop mayhem from that point on. The explosions are big, the violence intense, the villains as vile as any we've yet seen in the series ... But what makes this movie so freaking fun is the man himself. I mean, this could have been a joke, this could have devolved into self-parody as Rambo III did. But give all the credit in the world to writer / director Stallone. He nails it. He knows his audience and plays to the crowd sitting in a theater with all of the self-awareness and eagerness to please of a great showman in action. More than most films you'll see today, Rambo is a movie that practically begs you to be audible, to CHEER our hero as he returns for one mo' go-round. The build-up to Rambo's return to action is great, for example. Stallone, the master of the montage, gives us snippets from all of the previous movies, as in the present day John Rambo hammers away at the forge, molding his new weapon of choice in the burning embers. We see all of the moments that have led up to this return to action, and when Rambo thinks to himself that killin' is, in fact, as easy as breathin' ... well, holy crap, let the games begin.
There's just something 100% authentic about this one that makes it easy to love. It doesn't feel made by commitee, it, like Rocky Balboa, feels like the vision of a guy who knows the character inside and out. It's not some hack writer trying to reinvent Rambo for a new generation ... no, this is the Rambo we know and love. He's older, meaner, more withdrawn and removed from humanity than ever - exactly as it should be. But Stallone combines that sense of authenticity with that timeless comic book bigness. When our team of cocky mercs gets captured, and all looks doomed, only for the hulking, bandana-clad figure of John G. Rambo to rise up in the background to save the day like some kind of G.I. Hulk ... well, if you're an action movie fan, you can't help but smile ear to ear, because in that moment, it's like 1987 all over again, baby. Rambo is here to teach those Burmese bastards a lesson.
So yeah, this isn't a movie that will win awards. It's not one that will be lauded for acting or writing or directing. But Stallone should get credit - in the last two years he's brought back two of the all-time great movie heroes with style and dignity and a hefty dose of awesomeness, showing all these young punks how it's done. So if you're an action fan who has been longing for an old-school movie that hits ya' right between the eyes, the kind they don't make much anymore, then this is the one you've been waiting for.
My Grade: A -