Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Review: Rambo

Well well well, if it isn't my old friend the inter-net. Hello friend, if you're reading this. I do apologize for the lack of blogging, if you've missed it. I don't generally subject my reader (you) to this sort of thing, but since it's the only recent film I've seen, and because reviewing stuff is easy, here I go.

I should first point out how amusing the names in this franchise are. The first movie, being very unlike its sequels, and probably having been made with no sequels in mind, is called First Blood. By rights, we should be talking about the First Blood franchise, but they decided to call the second film Rambo: First Blood Part II, which apparently left them with no choice but to call the third film Rambo III. When making a fourth film, it occured to someone that they actually don't yet have a movie that's just called Rambo, so the movie that could've been called First Blood Part IV or Fourth Blood, or Rambo IV is just Rambo. This is funny.

The newest Rambo film, coming some twenty years after the last one, is first and foremost a testament to the power of the Human Growth Hormone. Just look at those guns. (No, not the ones that are really guns.) That man is 60 years old. Much to the credit of Stallone and his pharmacist, I never once questioned that the dude is still capable of Post-Traumatic-Stress-induced carnage, on a massive scale. Which brings us to the carnage itself.

I should point out right now that I certainly went to this film expecting to see a lot of violence, much like one would expect to see cute woodland creatures in a Bambi movie, or a golden retriever that is good at sports in an Air Bud film. It is, in short, pretty much all the franchise has to offer. With the exception of the first Rambo film (with its single on-screen death), the formula has been pretty simple: Rambo kills corny Soviet baddies in corny ways, often involving a bow and arrow with explosive arrowheads. Yeah.

That said, I was pretty shocked. For starters, and I wouldn't have thought that this was possible, this film is a lot MORE violent than its predecessors. Stallone, who also wrote this film and all of its predecessors, was apparently sitting down at his trusty typewriter and said to himself "Y'know, mugshlug grug hmmm junkpagug," which translates (roughly) into English as "You know Sly, you handsome old devil, I really think that the best way to convey in this film the character's disillusionment with postmodern methods and attitudes towards warfare, vis-a-vis his current situation as a forgotten veteran of the American-Vietnam conflict, would be to have him kill more people than he did in previous films. Yes, I think that's a sound idea." Second, and this is where the movie digresses from its roots, the violence that is shown is a whole lot more disturbing.

Certainly, an essential element of the formula (which remains pretty much intact) for these films is "establish badness of bad guys." In previous installments, this meant Russkies would beat up malnourished American P.O.W.'s who have been kept in Vietnam decades after the U.S.'s departure, or shoot poor Afghan freedom fighters from helicopters. In this movie, the bad guys (Burmese military goons on an ethnic cleansing trip - sadly the cold war ended and Rambo no longer fights Soviets) bayonet babies, rape women, burn people to death in their bamboo huts, and press young boys into military service. We get it, these are bad guys. Sadly, this does serve to make them more believable (and detestable) bad guys (this is, after all, what real bad guys do). However, this is most certainly not what I expected from a Rambo film.

Yes, I am in fact complaining that the violence in this film was not mindless enough, at least not for the film in question. I could be wrong here, but if the good guy is going to be Rambo, a decidedly not-believable hero, I think I would be much happier with him fighting not-believable villains. Superman fights Lex Luthor, he does not fight Osama Bin Laden (although really, that might be cool). What makes the Rambo films fun (if they're fun at all, which most of you will probably dispute) is just how ridiculous they are. Going to see a Rambo film means going to watch a shirtless, mulleted commando kick-boxing a Russian soldier who is the size of a truck and is probably named something silly like Ivan Drinksalotofvodkavich down a hole, after pulling the pins out of all the grenades he's carrying. Silly stuff. The most disturbing thing about previous Rambo films is that they make violence so corny. The most disturbing thing about the new film is that it makes violence so... violent.

The good news is that while the baddies have gotten a lot badder (and more disturbing), Rambo pretty much stays Rambo. The film is at its best when it's bandanna-sporting, sad-eyed, monosyllabic hero (he never even pronounces his own surname in the film, since that would require TWO syllables in a single word) is doing his cheesy commando thing, typically involving impossible feats of strength, stamina, agility, and accuracy with a firearm (or bow and arrows). So, while Rambo goes overboard when it's trying to be a Burmese Schindler's List, it works pretty well when it's just content to be a Rambo film. The sad thing is that this mostly happens in the film's third and final act, after you've endured roughly an hour of film dedicated to the bad guys being bad to innocent non-combatants, occasionally bookended by Rambo doing something cool. It's like watching a martial arts movie where the bad guy spends most of the film beating up schoolchildren, only to have one good fight with the good guy at the end.

So, there you have it. I'm not really sure why I bothered, I'm guessing that you've either seen this already, or you weren't planning to anyways, or you've stopped reading my blog altogether. I'll try to write something else soon. Have a lovely day.