Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, August 23, 2016


After Sylvester Stallone successfully resurrected Rocky for a final bout, it was inevitable that he would bring his other trademark character back for one more mission. The fourth entry in the Rambo series was even entitled “John Rambo” at one point, to match “Rocky Balboa’s” title. After cycling through half a dozen other titles – including ridiculous subtitles like “Pearl of the Cobra,” “In the Serpent’s Eye” and “To Hell and Back” – the film was released domestically with the hilariously curt title of “Rambo.” (It remained as “John Rambo” overseas and most fans call it “Rambo IV,” for clarity’s sake.) Though not as well received as “Rocky Balboa,” Rambo’s fourth adventure was still a hit, cementing that Stallone’s star power had been restored.

John Rambo has apparently spent the last twenty-one years in Thailand, capturing cobras for a local snake show to make ends’ meet. After seeing that his efforts as the ultimate soldier have only made the world worst, Rambo has become a loner and a cynic. That is until a group of Christian missionaries ask him to furry them into Burma. Once inside the war-torn country, the missionaries are captured by an especially cruel, sadistic general. Hoping to rescue the innocents, John Rambo has to go into the war zone once again.

The Rambo series went through some serious changes along the way. Beginning as a character-oriented thriller, it soon became a jingoistic action series. By part three, it was practically mindless. 2008’s “Rambo” looks to restore some of “First Blood’s” character-driven aspect. The film considers the psychology of someone like John Rambo. At story’s beginning, he’s given up on people. Apparently, a pretty blonde smiling at him is enough to convince him that some people are worthwhile. After realizing he must go back to war, “Rambo” enters its best scene. A montage devoted to John forging his new knife – more like a machete, this time – he monologues in voice over, realizing that killin’ is what he does. Ultimately, he decides potentially dying for somethin’ is better then living for nothin’. The ending has Rambo’s faith in humanity restored, as he seeks to reunite himself with his father, who must surely be in his nineties. It’s not a lot but, considering the “Rambo” series had degraded into shoot-em-ups by now, any introspection counts for something.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rambo movie without some unnerving, right-wing politics. Despite obviously believing that war is hell, “Rambo” still seems disturbingly pro-violence. Rambo sneers at the missionary’s belief that they can change anything. The group’s desires to help people only gets them captured and tortured by the wicked Burmese military. After witnessing ghastly carnage, one of the missionaries embraces the way of violence, bashing an attacker’s head in with a rock. Moreover, “Rambo” is not an insightful examination of the atrocities in Burma. After portraying the Vietnamese as evil torturers in “First Blood Part II,” Stallone happily portrays the Burmese army as equally sadistic villains. It seems John Rambo is most happy while slaughtering Asians, regardless of country.

The film goes out of its way to portray the atrocities the villains commit. “Rambo” begins with a newsreel, showing actual footage of death and violence from the country. The next scene introduces the villain playing sadistic games with prisoners. Each gun shot results in a graphic burst of blood. A particularly sickening sequence is devoted to the military laying siege to a village. Women are raped. Children are shot, stabbed, and tossed into a burning building. Those who fight back are murdered with flame throwers or reduced to exploding body parts by grenades. To make it clear that General Tint, the primary antagonist, is extra evil, he’s also portrayed as a pedophile. Stallone’s quest for realism makes “Rambo” almost too bleak and unpleasant to work as populist entertainment.

Yet it’s clear why the writer/director piles on such graphic carnage. The bad guys must be so evil that it justifies Rambo’s equally monstrous retaliation. As far as action goes, 2008’s “Rambo” creates the kind of violence previously unseen in the genre. Rambo clears out enemies with his trademark bow, piercing heads and necks. He tears a man’s throat out with his bare hands. Before the movie even gets to the good stuff, Rambo blows up a hundred guys with a mine. After decapitating the gunner, he turns the cannon on the driver, reducing him to a spray of gore. From the jeep-mounted platform, Rambo cuts through an entire army. The camera lingers on enemy soldiers being cut in half by gunfire, heads exploding, huge holes blasted through bodies. He destroys a boat, a truck hauling more men, and hundreds of fighters. (Nobody seems to think to sneak up behind him.) It’s glorious action movie violence that I don’t think will be topped any time soon.

With the death of Richard Crenna in 2003, John Rambo lost his only consistent supporting cast member. “Rambo” can’t cook up any characters as lovable as Col. Troutman. If anything, the film’s new characters are some of its weakest additions. Julie Benz plays Sarah, the missionary that reaches Rambo’s heart. Benz mostly spends the film captured and panicking. Paul Schulze is an obnoxious wet blanket as the leader of the missionaries. In order to assists Rambo’s war on the genocidal military – as if he needs any help – a team of mercenaries accompany him. Some of these characters, such as Graham McTavis’ Lewis, are obnoxious and unlikable. Others, like Matthew Marsden’s School Boy, are just indistinct. The best among them is Tim Kang’s En-Joo, mostly thanks to Kang’s considerable charm. Ultimately, these characters could’ve been cut from the film and the story would practically be unaltered.

2008’s “Rambo” has some troubling undercurrents and its in-your-face violence is definitely distasteful and exploitative. Stallone’s direction is a little too shaky and he overdoes the slow-mo. Despite these flaws, “Rambo” features some incredibly intense action movie theatrics. It also manages to provide a satisfying conclusion to John Rambo’s story. That last factor made me question Stallone’s insistence on making a fifth movie. A final Rambo movie was discussed for years and was even given the awesome working title of “Last Blood.” Reportedly, this adventure would’ve seen John either waging war on Mexican drug cartels or a genetically engineered super soldier. Ultimately, Sly abandoned plans to continue the series, realizing Rambo’s war was finally over. I agree. 2008's "Rambo" provided massive action and an emotional end to the character's long journey. [7/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music*
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Loner Killing Machine]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

*On the boat ride, one of the mercs sings a song that sounds Frank Stallone-esque enough for me

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