MRR's Action Movie Month - "Rambo" Review

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John Rambo has reserved himself to a simple and secluded life. The Vietnam Veteran spends his time capturing snakes and chauffeuring locals in his old boat. A group of Christian human rights missionaries rent Rambo's boat to travel up the Burma river. But when a slew of Burmese army men and their Major Pa Tee Tint attack the village they are visiting, Rambo joins a group of mercenaries to save them.
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MRR's Action Movie Month - "Rambo" Review

-- Rating: R (strong graphic bloody violence, grisly images, sexual assault, language)
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2008
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Genre: Action/Thriller/War

The character John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) first appeared in 1982 in "First Blood," an action thriller with the heart of a wounded soldier at its core. It stood out from other violent movies at the time because the violence was not mindless. There was an actual plot and a reason why people had to die. Like that first movie, "Rambo" has a strong story that explains the violence, even as it gets grisly and increasingly bloody in the scenes leading up to the final frames. It is an explosive action film with heart, a great plot, and even an occasional laugh.

In "Rambo," Sylvester Stallone steps into Rambo's combat boots for a fourth time, nearly twenty years after "Rambo III" hit theaters. This time, Rambo is in Thailand trying to lead an anonymous and quiet life as a snake catcher. However, he still has quite the reputation, and a group of missionaries led by Sarah (Julie Benz) soon approaches him to escort them up the river to nearby Burma. Rambo resists at first because Burma is full of war and conflict, two things he wants to avoid because they remind him of his days in Vietnam. He is still scarred by everything that happened to him there and does not want to revisit those memories.

However, Sarah is very convincing, and charms Rambo into reluctantly agreeing to escort her group down the river. Soon, a band of pirates attacks their boat, goading Rambo into bloody action to save lives. When they group reaches Burma, Rambo drops off the missionaries and thinks he's finished with them. Then he discovers that a group of Burmese soldiers took them hostage. The last thing he wants is to go into a war-torn country and fight the natives, but his conscience won't let him abandon the missionaries. Soon, he has a boat full of supplies and mercenaries and heads back up the river to try to rescue the kidnapped group. Once he arrives in Burma, the action begins in earnest, complete with land mine explosions, shot-off body parts, and lots of blood spray even before he discovers where the missionaries are held.

Fans of the first three movies in the franchise, especially those who love the first film, are sure to enjoy "Rambo." "First Blood" was violent and edgy for its time, showing the extent to which war can affect a person's mental state. The similarities between "First Blood" and "Rambo" are striking, which is good because "First Blood" is widely considered the best of the first three movies about Rambo. The action's change of location from the Pacific Northwest into Burma adds to the story because there really is serious conflict going on in that country. Audiences don't have to be experts in international affairs to follow the story, though, since the film wisely provides background information on Burma and its problems. When the plot shifts into overdrive, the battle is believable because of the political strife that is going on today in Burma.

Much as he did with "Rocky Balboa" in 2006, Stallone takes an iconic character that he made famous years ago and picks up right where he left off. He doesn't miss a beat in portraying the ex-soldier who is conflicted about being so good at doing something so bad. It's as if Stallone always intended to revisit the character and never lost touch with Rambo's damaged psyche. It also helps that even though Stallone has aged nearly thirty years since the first film in the franchise, he has stayed in great physical shape. He is completely recognizable as John Rambo both physically and emotionally, which is no easy feat at 61 years of age.

When Stallone first hinted in the press that he wanted to reboot the Rambo character, the news was greeted with derision. Many critics felt that the character was best left where he was at the end of "Rambo III." Fortunately, Stallone had some clout in Hollywood again after his success with "Rocky Balboa," so he was able to co-write and direct the "Rambo" screenplay. After the film's initial release, many of Stallone's detractors had to take back their earlier comments, as the film was clearly a triumph. The upcoming generation of action movie stars could certainly watch "Rambo" to learn a thing or two.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars