R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Return of the One Man Army!

Dear Sly,

Thanks!

-Rob

So as happens to me quite regularly, I’m currently in the midst of an Action movie marathon. This time out, its Sylvester Stallone who’s got me caught in an obsessive streak. Much like it was with Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Charles Bronson and others, I just can’t get enough of Sly’s work at the moment. Even the bad stuff, and there’s plenty of that to go around, but right now I could care less. Of course, this current craze was brought about by Rambo, the latest attempt by Stallone to relive his glory days, but one that surprised me by just how satisfying it was.

Thing is, of all of Stallone’s heroes, I thought that it would probably be Rambo that would never get another adventure. You see, even though Rocky went and fought Ivan Drago in the middle of Moscow, it’s Rambo who really defined the 80’s era Cold War Action Hero, not only for Stallone, but probably for Cinema as a whole. Here was communism’s worst nightmare, an unstoppable American hero that would keep coming until he’d brought to them the pain he felt in Vietnam.

With the end of the Cold War though, was there a place for Rambo in modern Action cinema? Sure, Stallone had managed to bring Rocky Balboa back for one last championship round, but Rambo’s type of heroics are pretty dated nowadays. In a post 9-11 America, it’s pretty much assumed that the days of the “One Man Army” are long gone. Explosions on screen these days are more likely to be caused by a CGI robot than an M-60, so is there an audience for a 60 year-old guy manning a huge gun?

Then, as the movie went into production, the first stills that came back didn’t look promising. Stallone’s chiseled physique was replaced with, well, one of a 60 year old man. Mind you he looked like a 60-year old in good shape, but he didn’t look like Rambo either, which is something that hampered a lot of my early excitement. Next was the announcement of the film’s release date, which was in January, usually a tomb for films to go off to die. Then finally was the announcement that Rambo would not be screened for critics, which is usually the final death knell for a movie, meaning that a studio has simply given up on a property. Surely these factors were too insurmountable, even for John J. Rambo.

You know what? I was completely wrong. Not only did Rambo shatter my expectations; he shredded them and turned them into hamburger, just like he does to the Burmese bad guys of the movie. My thanks to those of you who wrote in and told me to have confidence in old Sly, because your faith has now been rewarded. Once again, an old warrior has returned and just like John McClane and James Bond, we got to have one last go round with one of our favorite action heroes. He may be older, and doesn’t look like he’s made of iron, but without a doubt; He’s still Rambo.

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Rambo Starring Sylvester Stallone and Julie Benz. Directed by Sylvester Stallone

So before I get on with the rest of my column, I have an issue with this series I’d like to discuss. Honestly, can no one in this series manage to find any consistency with the titles of these films? Seriously, I know that Hollywood genuinely thinks we’re stupid, so that’s probably why they dropped the First Blood from the title and just went with Rambo III for the third film, but there’s something to be said for uniformity. Even Live Free or Die Hard still has the name of the original film in the title, instead of just calling it John McClane 4. Then this new film compounds the problem by just calling itself Rambo, when the second movie is already called Rambo: First Blood Part II. I mean, if there’s another film, what do they call it? Is Rambo II still a possibility, or maybe First Blood Part III? Alright that’s enough ranting, now for some raving…

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It seems funny to me that this is actually the first movie in the series that’s directed by Sylvester Stallone. Much like he is with the Rocky franchise, Stallone is the life blood of the Rambo movies, and is the name you immediately associate with these movies. While perhaps not the most technically or artistically proficient director, at least Stallone is a man that knows what his audience wants when he’s behind the camera, and that’s exactly what he gives here. Surprisingly though, he smartly avoids the pitfalls of some of his predecessors and doesn’t make Rambo a comic book shoot’em up like the third film is.

While the film’s climax is as over the top and gory as possible, and its bad guys the most evil and vile villains I’ve ever seen on screen, I will say that I love that Stallone went with a more somber and serious tone for this new picture. In fact, this film takes itself nearly as seriously as First Blood does, which is a welcome surprise considering how jokey Rambo gets in the third film. This film could have easily tried to make a joke of itself; much like recent 80’s Action throwback The Marine did when it did screens, but instead, Stallone takes the entire proceedings completely serious. This makes it easier to root for Rambo and the other heroes in this film, as well as makes it easier to stomach the ridiculous amounts of violence that come at you throughout the picture.

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This time out, we also get the most human John Rambo we’ve seen since First Blood. This is a man who is trying to find some sort of peace within himself, and not taking out his aggression on opponents in Martial Arts fights. That’s not to say that he doesn’t still do “Man” stuff, because apparently he spends most of his day catching cobras, blacksmithing, and fishing using a bow and arrow. I like this balance that Stallone is able to find with this character, as he’s still able to exude the same macho characteristics we expect from this character, but he makes it work better within the more downplayed opening section of this film.

There’s a struggle here that Stallone inserts into the character which was basically just window dressing in the first two sequels of the series. Rambo is trying to fight his demons and keep them down, but he can’t change who he is. I really like the dream sequence in the picture, which is a nice mixture of highlights from the previous films, new footage and also some deleted scenes. I know it’s supposed to be a nightmare, but apparently Rambo has the most bad ass dreams ever. Seriously though, it’s a nice touch by Stallone to give the character this inner conflict before unleashing him on the country of Burma.

Now is this a formula Rambo picture? Absolutely it is, but that’s what makes it work. There’s a sense of nostalgia that kicks in as we see Rambo try to talk a group of missionaries out of going into Burma, which is apparently the worst place on Earth. We even get one of Rambo’s patented speeches about how you can’t really change the world, you can only try to survive it. All the while we see glimpses of the horrible atrocities that are taking place in Burma, showing us just how despicable these villains really are. Then finally, Rambo has to go in and rescue the missionaries and this turns into a full on Rambo movie.

Much like Rocky Balboa was for that franchise, Rambo is almost like a greatest hits version of this series. It tries to give you the best of both worlds this franchise has to offer, giving you the serious tone of the first movie, but all the carnage you would expect from an epic with the name Rambo in the title. Make no mistake, those that are coming to this film to get a face full of action will find it here.

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Rambo is the single goriest American Action movie of the modern era. No other Action film even comes close as body parts fly, chests burst open with and people fall over into different people. At point one, Rambo shoots a guy with a huge turret and the next thing you know the guy is just meat soup. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen anything like this. You would have to be dead or just not a Rambo fan to not get at least a little excited as Stallone cuts peoples heads off, rips throats out, and sets off what may be the most ridiculous explosion in movie history. I wish the new Aliens Vs. Predator film had an explosion that was as awesome as the one in this movie.

As you read this, you may be thinking to yourself, “Whatever Rob, I’ve already seen gory action in (Versus, Kill Bill, Hard Boiled, Rikki-o, The Wild Bunch, Predator, Robocop)!” No you haven’t. You’ve never seen people get obliterated by a machine gun the way they do in this movie. People are just replaced by chunks of flesh and blood, in the most intense and bloody action sequence I’ve ever seen on film. While this may not be as gory as some Horror films of recent years, this is the new standard for gory Action, bar none.

Now this isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have its problems. The villains in the film are so heinous that I would hope that they are not even remotely realistic. The main bad guy himself, whose name never once gets mentioned in the movie, has none of the personality of any of the series best villains, but on the other hand is not only a sadist, but a pedophile, and man, that’s just evil. His army kills innocents for sport using landmines, rapes women and throws children into fires. While I’m all for bad guys being evil, I think these guys are so bad and their sequences so ugly that it makes the film difficult to stomach at times.

Also, probably the biggest disappointment of the movie is the exclusion of a full blown “search and destroy” sequence. With the jungle landscape of this film, I was hoping to get a sequence similar to that of the first film’s where it becomes a Horror film and Rambo is the monster. It’s the most memorable sequence in each of the first three pictures of this franchise and not having it here does hamper my excitement for the movie just bit.

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This is made even more disappointing by the fact that this film does add a single new dimension to the formula; a mercenary team that helps Rambo take out the bad guys at film’s end. There is a scenario in the film where the team, lead by Rambo, has to extract the missionaries from the bad guys’ base camp, and we get some of the ninja-like action from Rambo films of old, but its really not the same. This is really just a minor complaint though, as I really like the addition of the mercenaries to the film.

I can really see the point in this addition, as Stallone is sixty years old, and can’t run around like he used to, letting these younger dudes do some of the heavy lifting. We even get one standout; Matthew Marsden as School Boy a British sniper who comes off like he could be the next generation of Rambo-style hero. I absolutely love this juxtaposition of a modern style Action team with an old school Action hero, as we see that time and again they seem to be overwhelmed by this situation and need Rambo in order to survive.

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All in all, Rambo succeeded against all odds, even my own expectations. While the film has problems, they’re not nearly as bad as some of the other films in this series, and this film wallops most other modern Action films. The bottom line is that this film delivers on nearly everything it’s supposed to, which is all you can really ask of it. Is it perfect? No. Would I see another one if they made it, based on this one? You better believe it.

Picture Credits: buzzcine.com, impawards.com