(Spoilers! If you haven’t seen Rambo, go out and see it. Unless you hate mega ultra violent movies. In which case this movie and review aren’t for you. And don’t give me any of this shit about ‘Stallone being too old’. Once you see the movie you’ll be shitting your pants because of how badass he is.)
Brief Rundown of The Rambos:
First Blood – Rambo is just some dude travelling through some small town when the local police sheriff basically tortures him because he has a stick up his ass. This in turn makes Rambo go FUCKING NUTS because oops! he is a Vietnam war vet! He wages a one man war against everyone he lays eyes on.
Rambo: First Blood Part II – Rambo is a good guy and goes to Vietnam to save the day.
Rambo III – Rambo is a good guy who goes to Afghanistan to save the day.
Which brings us to Rambo (4).
Rambo – Rambo is a miserable snake catcher and presumably one of the only people in town with a functioning (motor) boat. He reluctantly helps a group of Missionaries get into Burma. Then he disgruntle-y helps a group of Mercenaries into Burma to save the Missionaries. Only the Mercenaries don’t really want to be there and its Rambo who does most the work, killing virtually every Burmese Baddie with either his bare hands a a giant fucking machine gun on the back of a truck. He ends just a miserable as he started.
Honestly I don’t know why Rambo wasn’t more of a success. 1) It wasn’t overly complicated. 2) The last half of this movie is either Action Set-up or Action. After he saves the group of people from the mine-dash by Bow and Arrowing everyone, the movie has absolutely no down time until everyone is dead or bleeding. 3) It has enough violence to satisfy every Red Blooded American 10 fold.
Sure Stallone is old and the movie came out at the end of January, but really this movie should have thrived. And while the Hollywood mainstream audience turned its back on Stallone (at least until he joined forces with every Muscle Man in Hollywood), I truly believe this movie has one of the most poignant and nihilistic views of War.
Let’s start at the beginning. As Rambo opens, we see a bunch of real news footage shots of the actual violence in Burma, with a voice over explaining this has been “The longest running civil war” in history.
And why is this the longest running civil war? How can people just sit by as people are being brutally slaughtered every day? Why doesn’t someone go over there and try to help?
Well as Rambo puts it, unless you’re bringing guns, “you’re not changing anything.” Some people are just bad people. They can’t be reasoned with. Maybe they were born that way, like our Main Baddie, who remains relatively unnamed throughout the movie but imdb has him as Major Tint. Or maybe they are products of their environment like the pirates they encounter on the river.
You know, those pirates who were going to kill everyone and kidnap/rape the innocently naive Sarah. That is until Rambo sizes up his opponents, looking to see who has their guns at their side or out and ready. After deciding who poses the biggest threat first, second, then third, Rambo quick draws his hidden (even to the audience) gun and with lightning quick speed lays waste to them.
After killing a now helpless pirate by shooting him point blank in the head, Michael shouts out “We came here to stop the killing! Who are you to judge-” at which point Rambo, who has remained relatively quiet and calm to this point, snaps, grabs Michael by the throat and yells back “Who are you?! They would have raped her 50 times and cut your fucking heads off. Who are you?! Who are any of you?!”
Its at this moment we are faced with the first true moment of the realistic moments of war and violence. Rambo didn’t want to kill anyone, but in order to protect his passengers so they could go in and help, he had to. There was no talking their way out. No paying their way out. No being civil. In a moment of life or death, is it really honorable to die before you’ve even had a chance to help others just because three dudes with guns decide ‘they own that part of the river’? Or do we need a Rambo figure to save our asses and do the dirty work for us so we have someone to blame for the perpetual circle of violence?
After Rambo drops off the Missionaries, it doesn’t take long for the Burmese Baddies to destroy their village, laying waste to everyone and everything except our noble spirited good guys, instead taking them prisoner. The violence here is fast and clear. Bad things are happening and with no motivation. This is war. This shit happens. The fact we don’t have a clear answer as to why makes it more disturbing. Why is it happening? Because no one is willing to fight back, so they just keep doing it.
And they would have kept doing it too, because once our ‘heroic’ Mercenaries show up, they clearly have no desire to stay and help. They are severly outnumbered and fighting just for a paycheck. (The only one who seems to want to help is Schoolboy, but that’s just so Rambo has a sort-of sidekick later.)
When we get the second dose of mine-dash, the Mercs stay hidden, letting the baddies do as they please. It is Rambo who comes running out of nowhere to snipe attack the five baddies with his quick fire bow and arrow skills. How many Mercs were hiding? At least 5. That would have made it one on one and they had the element of surprise. But no. They may have the weapons to ‘change things’ but not the cold blooded killer inside. They think logistically. ‘If we mess up, they run away, we’re fucked.’ Only Rambo embraces the killer inside to rip his arrows through them, showing them just as much mercy they were showing their prisoners. In war, there are no rules. No good guys and bad guys. Just the people left alive and the people dead.
From this point on there is no down time. Rambo and the gang mount a very last minute hastily planned escape mission that goes off near perfectly. Rambo even manages to rip a guy’s throat out. But why? Why would he want to do something like that? Well, when one of the baddies was going to rape Sarah, he needed to be punished. Bad things can not happen to good people. And Rambo knows this. Who knows how many women he raped and then probably killed and fed their bodies to the pigs. Out in the jungle, there is no court or jury. Rambo had to act. And he acted with his hatred on the forefront of his mind. But he acted.
After a daring escape involving an old World War II bomb, Schoolboy and Sarah find themselves helplessly watching as the baddies beat their friends. The main Merc shouts obscenities. His punishment? Being beaten. Michael pleads mercy. His reward? Being beaten. Sarah cries to Schoolboy to help them. Schoolboy solemnly responds… “Nothing we can do.”
At which point, we get one of the only slow motion shots in the movie. And its not a glorification of the violence ‘look how cool or effects team can make this squibb effect look’ shot. No. Its simply Rambo standing up slowly behind a man who mounts a giant fucking machine gun on the back of a truck. At this point, everything we have seen Rambo do was just a warm up…
It is at this point Rambo becomes the hero. All the bad people we hear about going unpunished, those people who get away with the most vile of acts and do so with a smirk on their face, those innocent people suffering because good men do nothing… all of that hatred for evil people in their most basic form, Rambo blows them away in a majestic rain of bullets and blood. This is Rambo’s ‘Dirty Harry Kezar Stadium giving the badguy the violent justice we normal people know is wrong but know they deserve’ moment. (Rambo will literally spend 5 whole minutes on this gun and not say a word the rest of the movie.)
Every problem Rambo is faced with… enemy soldiers, enemy boat, enemy-filled truck, he just shoots at it until it is solved. Even when there is a glimmer of hope, the rebel reinforcements show up and the baddies start retreating; no. Rambo shows no mercy. He knows he has won, but he isn’t out to win just a battle. As Military Theorist Carl Von Clausewitz wrote, ‘To introduce into the philosophy of war a principle of moderation would be an absurdity – war is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds.’ Rambo shows no mercy. There are no prisoners. Only the dead.
Even as our main badguy runs away, unarmed (at least no presentable weapons in his hands), Rambo stabs him in the stomach from behind a tree and as he steps out and looks him dead in the eyes. He says nothing. There is no honorable moment so often glamourized in Hollywood between good guy and bad guy. No romantic words of valour between the two, a sort of sportsmanship between two pros. No. Rambo rips the machete out, spilling his guts on the ground, and kicks the bleeding body down the hill.
As Rambo looks out at his destruction, there is no final moment to sum everything up nice and neatly. This is war. It fucking sucks. No one wins. The people alive are just as miserable as when they started. The innocent are corrupted (Michael having stated killing someone is never right kills a badguy to save another) or they are hurt (Sarah’s face sums up the dirtying of innocence as she looks back at Rambo, face filled with dirt, blood and tears).
The only thing that has changed is the body count.
However, as Rambo leaves Burma, without any last words of wisdom, there is a moment of hope. He returns home to Arizona, realizing that if everything in the world is either shitty or shittier, might as well have some meaningful connections to share in our life.
Rambo isn’t a movie that glorifies its violence. Its quick and sharp. And whether its badguys killing goodguys or vice versa, its shot through the same unforgiving lens. Nothing in Rambo gets solved. The only thing we learn is that the only way to stop truly bad, violent, evil people is to be just as violent back. And maybe its not the most fun thing, but when faced with innocent people being slaughtered and you’re own mortality, “when you’re pushed… killing is as easy as breathing.”