Lionsgate // 2008 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 27th, 2008
Live for nothing or die for something.
"You know what you are. What you're made of. War is in your blood. Don't fight it. You didn't kill for your country. You killed for yourself. God's never gonna make that go away. When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing." -- John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone)
It's been a couple of decades, but when we meet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky) again, he's still leading a lonely life in the middle of nowhere. He's working quietly as a longboat operator in Northern Thailand and wants nothing except privacy. Stay out of his way, and he'll stay out of your way. One day, Rambo is approached by a couple of Christian missionaries (Paul Schulze, The Sopranos and Julie Benz, Dexter) who want a favor: they'd like to know if he'd be willing to take them into war-torn Burma. Rambo initially declines, but then begrudgingly agrees. Shortly after the missionaries arrive, they are kidnapped by the vicious Burmese military. Determined to save these good-natured people, Rambo decides to lead a group of mercenaries on a bloody and violent rescue mission.
Yeah, yeah, we all know that everyone was initially skeptical about the idea of the aging Sylvester Stallone returning to the Rambo franchise. But it seems that the shock value of that has worn off, especially since the reasonably successful revivals of the Die Hard, Rocky, and Indiana Jones franchises in the past couple years. Stallone is still capable of playing the role effectively, and he doesn't disappoint here. The real question should not be, "can Stallone still play Rambo?" The question we ought to be asking is, "should I even bother watching Rambo?" Well, the answer to that question is a very subjective one. From a purely analytical perspective, Rambo is a morally repugnant film that deserves to be condemned for many reasons. However, the sheer level of dense sincerity in this awful movie makes it work quite well as an unintentional action movie satire.
In the special features on this DVD, Stallone talks about his desire to raise awareness about the situation in Burma through this film. If that is the message, it's an awfully well-disguised one, because the film (and John Rambo, for that matter) doesn't seem to care very much about the native people being persecuted. They are nothing more than bodies waiting to get shot, so the audience can know that the armies shooting these poor people are evil. Rambo does nothing to help them or assist them in any way. But when a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian woman gets kidnapped, Rambo and a dozen helpful mercenaries decide to go on an extremely dangerous rescue mission/killing spree.
Oh, and John Rambo doesn't just kill people. He destroys them. He does not just strangle a man...he rips the man's throat into shreds with his bare hands. He doesn't just shoot people...he cuts them into pieces with a parade of bullets. He doesn't just set up explosive devices to kill people...he nukes them. He doesn't just shoot people with arrows...he shoots arrows through both sets of their eyeballs. He doesn't just stab people...he slices them open and pulls a few body parts out. By the film's final act, the violence becomes so wildly over-the-top that it stops making you cringe and starts making you laugh. It literally feels like watching hundreds of people get turned into flying globs of strawberry jelly.
The original First Blood was a rather thoughtful statement on violence, and this film is also a thoughtful statement on violence...but the thoughts are a lot less complex and a lot different this time around. Stallone wrote and directed the film, and there can be no doubts about the message he is trying to get across. To sum up Rambo in a nutshell: no matter how much you try to avoid it, the only way to accomplish anything good in this world is to kill a bunch of people. The missionaries try to tell Rambo otherwise. They feel that prayer, faith, and love is a superior option to going on a killing spree. Rambo looks at them with weary cynicism, reflecting in his infinite wisdom on how naïve these peace-loving crazy people are. Don't worry, kids...they'll learn not to turn the other cheek before this film is done.
The film is actually quite interesting on a visual level. The camera and editing moves slowly and quietly for a large portion of the film, and then everything goes crazy when the action scenes appear. It's actually quite effective, and the film looks superb thanks to the hi-def transfer. The images are rich and vibrant, and this ranks among the stronger high-definition transfers that I have seen thus far. The sound is excellent as well, with a nice balance between Brian Tyler's score (which thankfully takes a couple moments to highlight Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful themes from the earlier films) and the rather noisy sound effects.
A very solid batch of extras is included on the disc. There are six featurettes on the making of the film. The 20-minute "It's a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon" discusses everything that went into bringing Rambo back to the big screen. Interestingly, at one point, there was going to be a movie about Rambo battling illegal immigration. Oh, that would be something to see, wouldn't it? Three brief featurettes on the music, editing, and weaponry touch on some more technical elements, and they're all quite solid. "A Hero's Welcome: Release and Reaction" mostly dismisses the weak reviews the film received, and only focuses on all the praise the film got (mostly from the cast and crew). Finally, the last featurette briefly discusses the real-life situation in Burma. Combined, these run about 70 minutes. There's a really excellent commentary from Stallone, who offers a lot of thoughts on what John Rambo is thinking and feeling. The commentary is a lot more reflective and complex than the film itself. There's also a pretty cool picture-in-picture feature (a Blu-ray exclusive) that permits you to watch Stallone chatting during some of the commentary, offers some behind-the-scenes footages, and seamlessly blends in additional interview segments. This expands the running time of the film from 90 minutes to two hours during the commentary. A handful of deleted scenes and a trailer gallery for the entire series wrap up the special features.
See all of that stuff mentioned in "The Evidence."
Personally, I found Rambo to be an immensely entertaining exploitation film. It's been a while since I've seen an action movie this entertainingly horrible. However, had the movie been just a little bit smarter, wiser, or more skillful, I probably would have found it to be an appalling piece of cinematic garbage. Because Stallone did not permit me to take the story seriously, I was able to enjoy the film. However, if you do take the film seriously, you will probably be disgusted...unless your politics are similar to those of Stallone, in which case you will find yourself inspired. Thus, I offer no recommendation one way or the other, and leave it to you and your own sensibilities to determine whether or not you should watch Rambo.
Guilty of being one of the most enjoyably awful action movies released in recent times.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone w/ Bonus View Picture-in-Picture
* "It's a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon"
* "A Score to Settle: The Music of Rambo"
* "The Art of War: Completing Rambo"
* "The Weaponry of Rambo"
* "A Hero's Welcome: Release and Reaction"
* "Legacy of Despair: The Struggle in Burma"
* Deleted Scenes
* Rambo Series Trailer Gallery
* Standard-Definition Digital Copy of Rambo
* DVD Verdict Review - Rambo Trilogy
* DVD Verdict Review - Rambo: Ultimate Edition