The first First Blood is pretty good. More of a monster movie than a traditional action flick, the movie’s focus is on the pig-headed white-as-rice cops and their pursuit of Rambo, who’s a rampaging beast poked in all the wrong places. He just wants to be left alone, but of course, that can’t happen – the cops fuck with him, he pushes back and then escapes into the woods to hunt his pursuing prey. It’s all about suspense. You know these cops are gonna get it, and they do, but it’s also about how Rambo is way out of place. He shoots up the town and blows up its stores but it makes sense – he really doesn’t belong there. He’s the animal that escaped from its cage and, confused and angry, he lashes out. The recent Cloverfield’s another perfect example of that, if the actor and filmmaker interviews are correct in stating that the monster in that movie is really a lost child. Rambo’s similar, an aborted creation of the government, except he has his mentor Colonel Trautman to reel him in and make everything safe again.
The stupidly titled Rambo: First Blood Part II puts him back in his place, the muddy jungles of Southeast Asia. This is where all the parodies come from, the Rambo everyone knows: shirtless, muddy, shooting exploding arrows with outrageous aim … It’s the stupid 80s action movie of the series, released at the height of the stupid 80s action movie era, 1985, the Year of Commando. It’s dumb but a lot of ironic fun with some memorable characters and moments – Rambo’s love interest (yes, there’s a love interest) asks him “What do you believe in?” and Rambo takes out his
cock knife and says “This.” The action is simple and silly but it’s spread throughout the whole movie so it’s never really boring. Add in some revisionist Reagan monologuing and you got yourself a classic.
And who gives a shit about Rambo III.
20 years later we get Rambo IV, or, just plain Rambo. And what do we know about it? It’s gory. It’s gory as hell. I love blood and guts as much as the next stunted man-child but once that novelty wears off – and it does in the latest entry in the First Blood/Rambo series – what’s left? Story? Character? Barely.
The movie’s only 90 minutes but it has to establish some things. More things than I care for. First, it’s set in Burma, which we are told in a bundle of news clips at the start, is the worst fucking place on Earth. It’s all real news footage but with all the voice-overs and the maps, I couldn’t help but think of the beginning of the Street Fighter movie. Yeah, okay, Burma’s probably a lot worse than Shadaloo but this storytelling shortcut could’ve been axed. So, like Rambo II, I mean Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo IV, argh, Rambo!! –
exploits uses a real life conflict as the backdrop for the story.
Then there are the Burmese soldiers who slaughter villagers and just do outright terrible things. They rape everybody, throw kids into flamethrower fire, feed people to pigs, just– every bad thing possible. They do it. And we get to see it all in the red, splintery terrible horror. The Nazis, the Russians, vampires, zombies, they got nothing on these guys. This is pure fucking evil, black and white, pure and simple. Then there are the Catholic missionaries, who are so pure and godly and want to help the Burmese people so much, no matter what, even though they can’t – it’s just laughable. “We’ll help them! You’ll see!” they tell Rambo, who rolls his eyes, then reluctantly guides them upriver to the warzone.
Then there are the mercenaries, who are sent in with Rambo to rescue the missionaries. They’re mostly faceless losers, fodder for the Burmese devils, but there are few stand-outs like the singing inbred, the bearded Korean, the sniper, and the awful bald British (?) guy who talks way too much for way too long. This guy’s a shitkicker. Every other word is a curse, he sneers like a pirate and that accent is just atrocious on the ears – he’d be risible if he wasn’t so grating. This guy, coupled with the singing hick, makes these set-up scenes – on a slow boat by the way – unendurable. They’re annoying and they’re onscreen for so long. Appallingly, the loud bald pirate barks all the right complaints to Rambo, who’s puttering the boat along like the missionaries aren’t getting raped and torn apart right that instant.
Awful Pirate asks “Why is it taking so long to fucking get there?” Yeah. Yeah! Good question! This is the return of Rambo, right? The action movie Rambo? It’s like that old Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa are watching Itchy & Scratchy and the episode keeps teasing them with the promise of a fireworks factory. Like, explosions and hijinks will happen when they get there and it will be awesome! It’s just like that with Rambo. When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?! I understand Stallone (writing and directing as well) wants to build suspense – the thirst for blood! – but he’s just being cruel here. This isn’t First Blood suspense, this is goddamn exploitation, abuse. Baiting. He’s got the audience by the balls at this point. He sets expectations up so high throughout the movie that when they do get to the fireworks factory…
Well, on a technical scale, it’s pretty impressive, shocking even, as far as the blood and guts go. The reviews and the word-of-mouth– it’s all true. But then something else happens. The camera starts going crazy. The action gets confusing. There’s no sense of place or geography, or where anybody is and it’s just shots of random death after random death. Interest quickly wanes. The gore gets less and less impressive until there’s hardly any money shots left at all. And then there’s nothing to latch onto. A pat bare-bones ending and a sense of “What the fuck did I just watch?”
If you were to go on RottenTomatoes, or read any review, you’d hear hyperhole – just plain hype in this case – about how it’s gorier and more action-packed than anything you’ve seen or will ever see. Well, the gore part may be true but once the “action” hits it’s like, what? That’s it? Rambo camps behind an anti-aircraft gun the whole time? And we’re treated to herky-jerky shots of guys getting torn in half? That’s all we get? The mercs get to see more action than Rambo and indeed, they have some of the best kills – the sniper and Beardo Kang rank up quite score. The movie should’ve been called Rambos, not Rambo!
I know it’s weird, even sick, but … come on. I expected more. For an action movie there’s just set-up, then set-up then more set-up. Then the adrenaline finally kicks in and then, whoop, there we go. That’s it. Like Rambo forgot his Viagra. Besides the gore, and an unexpectedly huge explosion, there’s not much to see here.
And even though the movie’s called Rambo he doesn’t really feel like the focus, like he clearly was in the other movies. There’s way too much noise in the way – the suffocating Burma conflict, the insufferable merc sidekicks. The best parts of the movie are when it’s just him hogging the glory. His deus ex machina arrow save for instance, or the super-fast gun draw on the boat earlier in the movie. The throat ripping. Isolated moments like that.
Otherwise, what’s left to hang onto? Any memorable lines? No. Is there a hammy political message? Not really, at least none that I could discern. What’s left as far as message goes? Genocide is bad, but violence is the answer against worse violence. “God didn’t save you, we did,” the Awful Pirate tells a missionary. That same Bible-beater goes on to bash a filthy Asian devil’s head in with a rock. Yeah, understandable, he’s in a helluva situation but how overt can you get?
Kudos go to Stallone for his raging passion for gore, torture and suffering. Like his psychopath peer Mel Gibson, the man clearly knows his way around a camera (most of the time) and he wants to show how bleak and horrible the world is. That’s fine. But his script and his timing need a lot of work. Lines like “fuck the world” and waiting eons through stupid characters and bullshit to get to bloody, off-putting catharsis don’t sit well. And the “Killin’s as easy as breathin'” line? Delivered during a hokey montage via voice-over. It’s like Rambo – hiding behind a giant gun, shooting arrows from afar – exists only in the edges. Like he’s in a vacuum.
The only connection to past Rambo movies is a dream sequence thing that sets up the ending. It has Colonel Trautman saying something like “You need to come full circle”, a soundbyte from one of the other movies. Sure enough, Rambo does, complete with an orchestrated version of the First Blood theme. This would’ve been great in a better movie. One without such an emphasis on boneheaded gore. For that, it’s great. Good. You get your intestines and your decapitations. Maybe my opinion will soften as I think more about it but so far the new Rambo is just not worth the 20-year wait.