Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Rey Gallegos. Rated R.
It’s easy to forget that the story
of John Rambo began 36 years ago with a novel by Canadian author David Morrell,
whose distaste for the Vietnam War fueled his vision of a shell-shocked veteran
on a murderous rampage in the Kentucky backwoods. Morrell painted Rambo as a
merciless killer whose harrowing tours of duty had left him despairing and
emotionally comatose. He was a menace, a savage unleashed on a hostile society,
and in the end he took his own life.
Sylvester Stallone, who used
Morrell’s novel as the inspiration for 1982’s First
Blood, chose to spare Rambo the indignity of suicide, but cast
him as a pariah in his homeland, spurned by the government that trained him to
kill. As a commercial gambit, it paid off brilliantly: Rambo became an American
icon whose righteous indignation and stern sense of justice guided his famously
lethal fists. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, he returned to Vietnam in search of POWs. In Rambo III, he ventured to Afghanistan to fight side-by-side with the
Mujahideen, in an ironic display of camaraderie between America and the future
leaders of the Taliban.
Whether as a reflection of
Stallone’s resurgence or of America’s ongoing military campaign in the Middle
East, Rambo has awakened from his 20-year slumber, and though the political
landscape around him has changed, the grizzled vet remains defiantly the same.
He is a man of few words, and what little he does say is notable for its comic
simplicity. His dialogue is a heady mix of the profane and the unintelligible,
and when he tells us that “killing’s as easy as breathing,” it’s a sure sign
that someone is due for a bone-crushing comeuppance.
his target is an
ultra-violent faction of Burma’s ruling military junta, which has been accused
of burning as many as 3,000 villages to the ground and slaughtering the
inhabitants. Rambo depicts the junta’s
genocidal fury with an unflinching eye, as peasants are seized and summarily
tortured. Though the Guinness Book of World Records credits Rambo
III as the most violent film ever made, this latest
installment seems intent on raising (or lowering) the bar.
should come as no surprise to
anyone familiar with Stallone’s musclebound avenger, whose sullen posturing
gives way to manic bravado as soon as he finds a cause worthy of his biceps,
that Rambo annihilates his enemies with no regrets. He is still the killing
machine Morrell envisioned, only charged with a nobler task – in this case,
rescuing a group of Christian missionaries (led by Julie Benz, of Dexter) from a vicious gang of soldiers.
There is an
audience for the
cartoonish mayhem Rambo is selling,
you know who you are. Those with an aversion to severed limbs and punctured
torsos would be wise to keep their distance. But give Stallone credit for
resurrecting a franchise whose demise seemed foretold by the end of the Cold
War. Rambo is pure adrenaline, a
frenzied rush into the heart of a jungle where the prevailing darkness is far
more horrific than anything Kurtz could have imagined. It is weightless
entertainment, all the more laughable when it tries to justify its excesses via
Rambo’s unfrozen caveman philosophy, but that’s just part of the fun.
Exhilarating from the start, its sensibilities are unapologetically primitive –
Wild West in the Far East – and it is Rambo’s most riveting adventure since First