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 a ‘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.