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Rambo

***
2008

‘…lets rip with endless action that looks like a slow-mo fire-fight in a fireworks factory made of raw excrement….’

What’s the most violent film ever made? Sure, there’s all kind of gore-filled horrors, but there must be a case for considering the fourth instalment of the Rambo sequence, a mainstream movie that stretches the Rambo character to new highs of manic bloodshed. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, if you watch a Rambo film, you’re signing up for action, and that’s well and truly what you get here. Stallone said that he imagined that John Rambo was directing the film, quite a conceit, and as the waves of blood and mud splatter the camera lens over and over again, maybe he’s got a point.

A plot of some kind is required, even if it’s just an excuse to kill unnamed characters and blow things up. John Rambo is now living in Thailand, and we see him exercising his interest in genial hobbies like catching deadly snakes with his bare hands, hammering machetes together by firelight, and monologing endlessly about his relationship to war. ‘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…’ A boat of US Christian do-gooders gets captured by ruthless Burmese military, and Rambo reluctantly agrees to side with the local Karen resistance and fight back, which he does with much the same ease with which he breathes..

I saw Rambo number four at the cinema in 2008, and was genuinely impressed by its commitment to mad action; David Morrell, who wrote the original book of First Blood and created the Rambo character, felt it was the sequel that was most true to what he wrote. And Stallone has always been a muscular director, and made a fan-friendly decision to just lay into the mayhem; a scene in which Rambo commandeers a mounted machine-gun emplacement must set a record for the number of bullets fired. First Blood had a death toll of one; this sequel ups the ante to a head-spinning 256. That’s almost three per minute, but even that doesn’t quite give the flavour of a film that slow burns for more than half its length, and then just lets rip with endless action that looks like a slow-mo fire-fight in a fireworks factory made of raw excrement.

While not per se and good film, Rambo at least takes the franchise to a new extreme, and there was nowhere to go but down for the final, decidedly low-key entry. Rambo wants peace, but can’t help conjuring up war, and in that sense he embodies a crucial hypocrisy of the 21st century. We’re encouraged to want the kind of wealth that can only be gained by the suffering of others, and conflict feels like an inevitable bi-product. While each films has merits, Rambo 4’s paltry 80 minute semi-story is both a zenith and a nadir of action cinema; in his world, there’s nothing wrong with shooting as long as everyone gets shot. And torn apart. And exploded. And that’s somehow the way in which peace in our time can be secured. It’s no wonder we live in a confused world.

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  1. First Blood is a pretty good movie about the cost of war for veterans and communities. The last sequel, though, Last Blood, was a total travesty. Hate its guts. Violence porn with no message except for some xenophobic stereotypes. I don’t think I’ve seen this one, though.

    • This one is a weird mix of good and bad. The first film is great for the reasons you describe, but I’d think you should skip this because the levels of violence are so extreme. It’s an odd franchise, never quite on point after the first film, and while the messaging is non-stop, the seriousness is posted missing. Great comment, even if you haven’t seen this one!

  2. I’m a fan of both Stallone and Morrell, and took a master writing class with Morrell in Nashville a few years ago. The first Q I asked him was why did you kill off Rambo? He said from his Canadian perspective, watching 1960s action was pure chaos. There was a huge gen gap between WWII and Nam & there was tampering with soldiers’ minds… in the end it was about sacrifice, whereas in Rocky movies, it was about endurance. I think original title for this flick was Rambo to Hell & Back (or Gramp-o for the sarcastic as Stallone was a fit 61). Stallone did want to get word out about horrors in Myanmar on limited budget. I found it interesting that only in this film did Rambo share the spotlight with some dirty dozen’esque types. It’s not my favorite, but gets message across well. Too bad the theme song for this one wasn’t “war, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing…”

    • Wow! You always have an anecdote to beat us all! First Blood was a movie that I adored at 14, and still love it today. The sequels less so, although this one does get back to the core of who Rambo is, even if the plot is minimal. I guess Rambo is a great symbol of the collateral, personal damage caused by war, and even if the films became rather cartoonish, the point still stands. The route-one approach of this film is still something to behold, and you can’t accuse Stallone of watering down his franchise; he just goes ballistic in this!

  3. That is NOT just a machine gun. It’s a Browning M2 Aircraft heavy machine gun with a heat shield and a muzzle brake and mounted on a Tatmadaw Army Jeep. As the USA people like to say, it was Awesome! Oh and the Claymore mine scene was fab too! Can’t remember who the blonde do-gooder is but she was annoying. Her husband was worse. Hoped they would be caught in the crossfire but they survived sadly.

    • Wait, so that IS a machine gun? Sorta? I stand corrected. I can’t think of another film that goes for this level of action; everyone else is dispensable.

  4. I agree with Morell, far better than the calamitous “last blood”. This is the real Rambo he wrote in his book, such an animal with no flag. “John Rambo” is a old school kind of movie, sort of Cannon-like back from hell of B movies. And that’s good! The Peckinpah final seems to have no limit. That’s a Rambo with amos.

    • Yup, I think this is the best of the sequels. Gets the character right, but doesn’t stunt in action. Brutal stuff, but what a Rambo movie should be.

  5. Ten minutes of credits must be some record. Did they list the dead extras? And the Karen resistance? Any relation to the Sophia Stranglers? Or the Sicilian Defense? The do-bad Rambo to the rescue of the do-gooders was always going to be a Hollywood irony. You would have thought he would be a missionary-clear zone. After this came The Expendables. Stallone was one action star you could never kill off.

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