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Review: Rambo (2008)

Rambo (2008)  

Directed by: Sylvester Stallone

Premise: The fourth film in the Rambo series. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), living a quiet life on the Thailand-Burma border, escorts a group of missionaries into the war torn region. When the missionaries are captured by the local military, Rambo leads a group of mercenaries on a rescue mission.

What Works: Rambo isn’t just a sequel; it is a reinvention of the character and the franchise. Correcting the mistakes of Rambo III, nearly all of the cartoonish qualities of the series are gone and the fourth film is a lean, no-holds-barred action thriller that combines the kinds of sequences fans of the series have come to expect from these pictures with contemporary action film sensibilities. This installment borrows the best elements of the three previous films, including the brooding and disaffected character of John Rambo as seen in First Blood, the brutality and jungle setting of Part II, and the rescue mission of Rambo III. The fourth Rambo film actually looks and feels more like Blood Diamond or Black Hawk Down than the other Rambo sequels with its gritty cinematography and inclusion of intense gore. What this film introduces into the Rambo series is a “war is hell” tone, something not seen in the franchise since David Morrell’s original novel. The body count is considerable, maybe more than any film in this or any other hard action franchise, but this film does not celebrate the bloodshed. Unlike the other Rambo sequels, the violence is awful and repulsive, and it leaves physical and emotional scars on everyone involved. What Stallone accomplishes in Rambo is something the series has been grasping for since First Blood; to put a very real face on combat and to suggest what a culture of violence does to a person. Where the original film was partially about healing the wounds of Vietnam and redefining masculinity in terms of male relationships, the fourth film finds Rambo considerably older and torn between participating in something he knows will have a bloody end and using his skill set to save people’s lives. In Rambo’s dilemma and his eventual reclamation of his warrior lifestyle, issues like pacifism, apathy, and the necessity of warfare take central importance and shape Rambo, allowing him to come full circle from the character seen at the opening of the original film, giving the franchise some satisfying closure. 

What Doesn’t: Although the film delves into the Burmese conflict, it does not have much to say about it other than that this is a travesty of humanity. There is very little character development here among the supporting cast and although the resurrection of Rambo is successful, it’s not as successful as Stallone’s Rocky Balboa.

DVD extras: Featurettes, trailers, deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: Rambo is a satisfying follow-up to the other films in this series and an effective action thriller with some bite, although the teeth don’t sink in as deeply as they could if there was more work on character. Nonetheless, John Rambo returns for one last siege of the battlefield, and it’s one hell of a run.

Episode: #176 (January 27, 2008); Revised #290 (May 30, 2010)