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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Rambo (review)

I will confess upfront that I have never seen a Rambo movie before — yes, there are serious gaps in my film education. I’m sorry. But I was with this new incarnation for a goodly while, partly because it’s lean and spare and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa) is so damn surprisingly good at being an iceberg: 10 percent rock-solid implacability on the surface and 90 percent hidden and unexpected depths. That’s exactly where his John Rambo, Vietnam vet now lying low in Thailand, is, until a group of American missionaries comes through looking for a ride upriver into wartorn Burma. Stallone — who wrote and directs — gives us a merciless and graphic look at the brutality of the civil war there (it’s more like genocide), but then he doesn’t know where to go from there. Spare is good: so spare that essentials are missing is not. Rambo’s detachment and cynicism is challenged by the missionaries’ dedication to a seemingly hopeless cause, but much of the subtext Stallone seems to believe is present isn’t, and so his transformation from a man who doesn’t care into one who does is perplexing in its context. The only place to go from there is into cruel and pointless action-movie violence, when — inevitably — the missionaries require rescue from the vicious Burmese military junta. I say “pointless” because the film fails even in its apparent goal of underlining the idea that only brutal men can fight brutal men. That’d be a conclusion I’d disagree with, if the movie were able to cohere around it, but all it seems capable of managing is bodily mutilation in the name of supposed morality.

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MPAA: rated R for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Jason

    First Blood is worth seeing. The rest are just popcorn.

  • I concur with Jason, M-A, but I’d be very interested to hear what you think of First Blood, based on your impressions of this one.

  • tim

    The irony is that FIRST BLOOD was in many ways an anti-war film, where all the sequels have essentially been war movies that celebrate mayhem.

    Even though John Rambo was a bit of an anti-hero in FIRST BLOOD, he was a tragic character made vulnerable by his mental illness. If you haven’t seen it (surprising), I won’t spoil it but its hard to believe this is the same character.

  • I concur with all those above. First Blood was, I think, meant to be a protest movie of sorts relating to our treatment of veterans. It featured Rambo’s PTSD before PTSD was something that most people knew about… he was the veteran who had been through hell and back and as a result, couldn’t function in “normal” society and found himself shunned as a homeless person. Only when persecuted by the local sheriff did he “snap to” and find himself a purpose, albeit a negative one in “civilized” society.

    In that sense, Rambo was very similar to the soldiers in 1998’s Soldier (with Kurt Russell)… a man programmed to be a killing machine who finds himself adrift when he’s discarded or no longer needed. In Rambo’s case, the solution was apparently to send him back into battle, where he is apparently “happiest”.

  • MaryAnn

    I believe you all. I haven’t seen *First Blood,* but I’ve added it to my Netflix queue.

  • MBI

    First, “Live Free or Die Hard” can’t shut up about 9/11.

    Then, “Rambo” turns out to be about the Burmese ethnic cleansing.

    This just in: Indiana Jones 4 to take place in modern-day Darfur.

  • Hdj

    Well Rambo 3 was one of the few movies to talk about the Russia Afghanistan war situation,
    Some times it takes a mainstream movie to get people to realize whats going on.

  • Drave

    I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I really wasn’t expecting much. I went to see it mainly because I was extremely pleased with what Stallone did with the recent Rocky movie, and I felt he deserved the benefit of the doubt. Imagine my surprise when it ended up striking a chord with me. Yeah, it’s bloody as hell, and slightly depraved, but it also made me think. I get the impression that Stallone called up some hippies and asked them where the worst things in the world are happening these days, and they told him about Burma, so he did some research and found out just how horrible things are over there, and then he made this. It’s one of the goriest things I have ever seen, but there is a certain honest purity to it. Film-making as art-therapy; a cathartic and almost poetic expression of frustration and impotent rage. With the actual newsreel footage attached to the beginning, the movie’s message seems clear to me. “Here is what is going on in Burma right now. It makes me furious. This movie you are about to watch? This is how mad I am. This is what it makes me wish I could do.” I feel like Stallone started out just wanting to make a somewhat politically relevant action movie, and ended up using it to exorcise his personal demons. Nobody can make art without revealing a part of how they look at the world, and I feel like I know Stallone better for having seen this. That doesn’t make it a narratively-satisfying film, but it does make it a captivating piece of art, at least in my opinion.

  • tim

    I love this Rambo “Death Count” this guy came up with…


    If you don’t want to follow the link it basically charts the number of kills in each Rambo film.

    First Blood: 1
    Rambo 2: 69
    Rambo 3: 132
    Rambo 4: 236

    This tells you everything you need to know about how the movie has evolved (haha). And more importantly why some people who were fond of the original hate the sequels.

  • MaryAnn

    I get the impression that Stallone called up some hippies

    Interesting that you could find Stallone interesting enough to be enraged by what’s happening in Burma, but not engaged enough to be aware of it on his own without the help of “hippies.”

  • Hdj

    Like Beowulf I totally disagree with you on Rambo.
    I meen the blood,arrows,bullets, and BOMBS! what more you could you ask for.This wasn’t Rambo Lite, and turned in to” Mr.Rambo goes to Washington”. It is what it is, a badasssss movie. You don’t need to have seen the old ones to like this one.
    Might help you like the character more. Sly’s not the best actor in the world, ok I’m fine with that, but this role, he owns it. Rambo was cut out for Sly and only he can fill the role. This movie kicked ass nuff said. The thing is your a woman, and I know it sounds mean but its true and…. you don’t understand how guys need movies like this, just like you need movies like “P.S I love you”

  • MaryAnn

    You don’t need to have seen the old ones to like this one.

    I never suggested that I did. I believe this movie should stand on its on. It does not. Not for me.

    Might help you like the character more. Sly’s not the best actor in the world

    I like the character fine, and I think Stallone is a far better actor than he is given credit for. I believe I made a point of noting how nice his performance is here. The problem, as I also made clear, is not with his character or his acting.

    I don’t mind being disagreed with. Really, I don’t. But please actually disagree with me.

    The thing is your a woman, and I know it sounds mean but its true

    It is true that I am a woman. But if you think you’re insulting me by saying such a thing, you could not be more wrong. And if you think that I don’t understand movies that are typically aimed at guy, you need to read some more of my reviews of “guy” movies. They are *much* more up my alley than movies like *P.S. I Love You,* which is an anomaly for me in that I praised it.

    you don’t understand how guys need movies like this

    Okay, explain to me how guys “need” a movie like this.

  • Urgh. As a guy, I can tell you for a fact that I don’t need a movie “like this”, whatever that means. I’d much rather have an intelligently-written action movie with less violence and/or mayhem, strategically applied where it’s really needed.

  • Drave

    I suppose I was being a tad glib there. I am guilty of sometimes trying to boil things down into more quotable but less accurate turns of phrase. I didn’t mean to belittle Stallone, and I certainly don’t think it reflects badly on him that he wasn’t aware of Burma until he decided to make the movie. I certainly wasn’t aware of it, and I don’t think many (if any) of my friends were, either. The main thing I was trying to get across was that, to me, the movie felt like an immediate emotional reaction to information newly received, rather than a well-planned narrative. For me, it worked on that level. I do think the decision to make an action movie came first, and that it was the results of his research that took it along the path to what it ended up being.

    As someone who sees a whole hell of a lot of movies, I am always curious about why people like things I hate. I figured you might be interested in hearing some justification beyond the usual “You didn’t like it because you’re a chick, guys need brainless action movies” crap that tends to show up in the comments. We rarely disagree this strongly on a movie, so, when it happens, I like to take the time to address your complaints without simply attacking your review. From what I can tell, your main complaint is that the movie doesn’t really seem to be saying anything. I disagree, but I do think what is being expressed is a pure emotion, rather than a conscious thought.

    Ironically, I have since learned that it wasn’t hippies that made him aware of the atrocities in Burma; it was Soldier of Fortune magazine.

  • MaryAnn

    I understand what you’re saying, Drave, and I agree that the movie starts out with the attitude you see. But it loses it somewhere along the way. That’s a problem.

  • MBI

    I enjoyed it somewhat, more than I enjoyed Rambo II, definitely. But it’s certainly not something I can defend against MaryAnn’s complaints about it, all of which are very legitimate. “Rambo”‘s take on the Burma ethnic cleansing is better than the franchise’s retarded takes on Vietnam POWs or the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and I thought it was less exploitive than “Blood Diamond” or “Tears of the Sun, but still: A Rambo movie that’s half Rambo and half The Killing Fields just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, it suffers from the common problem of shoehorning politics into a dumb genre movie (a condition formally known as “Rambo Syndrome”).

  • Hdj

    I’m still disagreeing, to the terms on what she didn’t like about Rambo. She doesn’t think the movie had much ground. Thats BS, theres plenty on ground here, I can see this movie going on to Rambo 6.
    The politics in this movie are kinda thin, but you get the point, you see how bad things are, then Rambo comes in and sends in all to hell like a real American Hero would.
    Thats why Guys need movies like this, it full fills our need to kick commie ass.

  • Jurgan

    I assure you, I feel no need to kick commie ass.

    (Are they really commies? I didn’t think they still made movies with communist villains.)

  • MBI

    My family is South Vietnamese, and because of my heritage, I do in fact have a strong need to kick commie ass. However, I fulfill that urge by kicking the asses of actual commies. College Marxists, mostly. Less challenging than the commies Rambo kills, but you know, you take what you can get, it’s not like I live in Beijing or anything.

  • MaryAnn

    sends in all to hell like a real American Hero would.

    *shakes head sadly*

  • Hdj

    Ok what I said was a little dopey, I messed up there and I know where not fighting commies like we where.
    It was a dopey thing to say. But you know what I ment,I ment to say he kicks some ass and sents them all to hell. Because in theses days , the tv’s allways trying to pump fear in to us. Telling us to fear certain nations , certain democracies. So Rambos a good break from that because, it shows us” ok some nations have it pretty bad”, but then Rambo , doesn’t care, hes not afraid to acrossed enemy lines and do a mission for the right causes. Event if some people, like the preacher in the movie, doesn’t approve of his ways. Then later in the movie the preacher sees some reason in Rambo’s ways.

  • I feel terrible for admitting this, but I did a little happy-dance in my head when I read MBI’s comment above. The thought of someone actually verbally assaulting college communists amuses me in a way it probably shouldn’t.

    The socialist “newspaper” at my school was more sensationalistic than the worst tabloids. The National Enquirer actually looked like legitimate journalism in comparison.

    Although, in their defense, the socialists were actually very nice people, despite being incredibly misguided. We had a regularly scheduled youth group meeting opposite them in the library, and they were always polite, even though it was pretty obvious that we had very different world views.

  • I am a guy, and I have NO intentions to see this film at all. Good review though, to bad I will never end up writing my own on this film – I could never see it, it would be far to disturbing (not the subject matter but Stallone kind of creeps me out, and I am not a fan of the “action” genre), and all the great 2007 films are now being released in South Africa, so I don’t even have the time. I hope all of you who saw the film enjoyed it, wouldn’t want you to have wasted your money on a ticket :)

  • Hdj

    what it comes down to is, your ether the type that go sees Rambo or the type that go sees Juno. Thats the qustion; Rambo or Juno, Juno or Rambo? , and you know,which one you pick defines what you went to the movies for.

  • I would pick Juno anyday, over any film, not only Rambo.

  • MaryAnn

    If you’re suggesting, Hdj, that it’s impossible to be a person who likes both movies like *Rambo* and movies like *Juno,* then you’re wrong. Because I’m a person like that. I didn’t like *Rambo,* but I do tend to like movies like *Rambo* — fer pete’s sake, *300* is in my top 10 for 2007, which is a lot more like *Rambo* than it is like *Juno.*

  • Give it up, MaryAnn. You know that you can’t enjoy action movies without a Y chromosome. You’re just pretending! *snarky grin*

  • Hdj

    I don’t think its impossible. I just find it hard to believe that fans of Juno would like Rambo, or any kind of adrenaline paced blood lusted movie. 300 doesn’t fit the category.Their not event in the same proportions. 300 in my eyes, is a piece of graphic novel literature and historical epic. Histories bloody, and when battles are showing alot violences, thats not being a blood hound , thats being historically accurate. Being able to watch violence in history or acceptable dramas, is not the same as being an action junkie. Plowman clearly states “action isn’t his thing”. That just sums the whole mentality of these Juno fans. I just can’t seem event liking the Bourne movies or the Mark Walberg movies. They rather see movies resemble a basket of puppies.

    Also , I was going to see Rambo for the second time, but since you dont think I… go see movies other then movies like Rambo and AVP:R , I’m checking out “There will be blood” , since I’ve liked Daniel Day Lewis ever since he played hawkeye in “Last of the Mohicans”

  • Jurgan

    Did he really just cite 300 as an example of a movie being historically accurate?

    Otherwise, I mostly agree. I’m annoyed by the false dichotomies set up where there are “guy movies” and “girl movies.” I’m willing to watch a good “girl movie,” like the aforementioned Juno, because if it’s good enough, it has something to appeal to everyone. Similarly, I’m annoyed that some people think I’m too old for cartoons- if they’re good enough, who cares what age they’re aimed at?

    I think this all comes out of the Hollywood marketing machine and its slice-and-dice view of demographics. They want a safe picture where they know exactly whom they’re aimed at, so they try to aggressively target demographics rather than just worrying about quality. An interesting anecdote: Greg Weisman, a television animation producer, produced the second season of W.I.T.C.H. This show features teenage girls with magical powers and aired on the Toon Disney network, whose audience is predominantly female. Greg said that he actually had to be kind of sneaky slipping in things that young boys would enjoy, because he was directed to target the show specifically at young girls. Apparently TPTB assume that you can only target a finite number of consumers, and that throwing a bone to people outside your main demographic weakens the appeal to that main demographic. He felt it was a pretty silly assumption, and I agree. Just because you have a mian audience in mind doesn’t mean you can’t also have something for everybody.

  • Hdj

    Right, and Rambo a movie that clearly sells it self as a totally meat head movie, could be enjoyed by anyone.
    What Im implying is ,the people that went and saw Rambo or Juno had a choice. Alright?, Im talking beyond the market and demographics.
    There are people at the movies now . They made the trip and are standing in the theaters now.They have a choice what they wanna see. What I’m saying is If they got that ticket for Juno, thats it, done deal, they wont be back to see Rambo. Why not, because they’re ” not in to action movies”, they rather see little cute puppy dog love movies. I’m tired of those cute movie , with top charting soundtracks, “Well…. i didn’t like chemistry but… soundtrack is good” what the hell is that.
    I wanna real romance movie where there cheating, misguidedness, false dipictions, some raw emotion.
    Not these tongue in cheek , clown shoe movies. I know 300 isnt a accurate, the violence was. In order for a war movie to be accurate, it needs to be bloody. I clearly stated its based off a graphic novel.
    Im saying you didnt like the Rambo because you can’t handle a tour de force peng! pow! action romp. And Juno fans wont like it because its not the equivalent of a puppy crawling up to you with it wittle paws making a little dog face and saying “lifes good”

  • MaryAnn

    I love action movies, when they’re well done. The Bourne movies are great. *Die Hard* 1 and 3 are great. But this new *Rambo* is not a “tour de force” in any way, certainly not of the action genre.

  • MaryAnn

    I deleted the entire review of the film posted by Moriarte. The comments here are a place to engage in discussion, not a one-sided lecture.

  • Oy

    One of the more underrated films I’ve seen in a while.

    I’ve never hated a villain so much in a movie and been so uneasy in witnessing their demise. I sat teetering between shock and awe through most of my viewing.

    I am absolutely loving the aged and broken war hero stories that have come about in my lifetime. There’s such an honesty to the characters. What am I? What is my role in this world? You and I struggle with these questions in our stupid little quiet lives. There are people on this planet that must come to grips with things about themselves that we cannot imagine and will likely never experience.

    Some people will pity John Rambo. I don’t at all. There is something profound about watching a person confront and accept themselves under the most extreme circumstances. Granted, enjoying a revelation like this is situational. You don’t take joy in watching a child molester come to grips with who he is. Rambo is a monster who’s actions I can personally justify.

    As far as specifics in the film I loved the dream sequence. It was quick, well edited and just the right amount of manic. My only real complaint about the movie is the lackluster performances from the missionary group. All people capable of so much more.

    And MA…I have read some of your reviews of “guy movies.” References to personal orgasms and gushing over how dreamy the male leads are doesn’t exactly lend you credibility with the male crowd lol. I could be wrong about that…

    …but I’m not!

  • MaryAnn

    Oh noes! I have no credibility with the male crowd! What shall I do? What shall I do?

  • Oy

    Don’t be a smartass lol.

    You were using your previous reviews of guy flicks to get across the idea that you enjoy them to the same degree or in the same general way that guys do…to a guy.

    You also talk like having credibility with men is a bad thing. Yes, I understand you were just being a jerkface but I’d wager there’s more than a little honesty in your sarcasm. :P

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