By Glenn Whipp
Meet the new Rambo. Same as the old Rambo.
Twenty years may have passed, but little has changed for the monosyllabic fighting machine who once battled communist bogeymen and turned headbands into a fashion statement.
Rambo movie No. 4, titled simply Rambo, is a throwback to a brand of action flick that fell out of favor when Stallone and Schwarzenegger aged and suitable replacements (anyone remember Howie Long on the big screen?) could not be found and groomed.
Hollywood moved on to Marvel and different formulas, but Rambo remains Rambo, a relic of the ’80s. Interestingly, the relative absence of this kind of action movie in recent years makes the new Rambo something of a curio that will satisfy genre enthusiasts whose taste for (first) blood cannot be quenched by costumed pansies like Spider-Man.
The movie, which Stallone co-wrote and directed, finds a jowly Rambo lurching to life after a couple of decades of inactivity. When asked why he’s still in Southeast Asia, Rambo pauses for a moment and mumbles, “It’s complicated.”
That’s as much of a back story as you’ll find here, with Stallone never hinting at the possibility that Rambo is now a relic of a bygone time. Indeed, when one khaki-wearing peacenik objects to Rambo’s first killing spree by saying, ”Taking a life is never right,” it’s clear moments later that what this 98-pound weakling really needs a Rambo-fied lesson in world politics.
”War is in your blood,” Rambo tells himself, while forging a new killing stick. “When pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing.”
I’ll say! My note-taking has its limits, but one writer tallied Rambo’s personal kills here at 84. This is all in the service of rescuing some Colorado missionaries captured by Burmese genocidal thugs while delivering “medical supplies and prayer books.”
Rambo’s generous offer of help goes against the bleep-the-world attitude he expresses initially. But he has a moment with idealistic missionary Sarah (Julie Benz) — it’s not that kind of moment, Rambo remains peculiarly uninterested in sex — and after telling her approximately 153 times that you can’t change the world, Rambo remembers that you can, in fact, change things, provided you have enough ammo.
While the intervening decades haven’t altered Rambo, they have sharpened movie magic, giving the new Rambo a gruesomeness only hinted at in previous entries. Limbs are severed and bodies are gutted, fried and blown to bits with a special emphasis paid to decapitations. (Again, I lost count.)
Not that restraint has ever been a Stallone hallmark, but he seems positively giddy here, if in an old-school way. The man hasn’t turned into Hostel director Eli Roth, but for all the rape, torture and blood-letting on display in Rambo, it wouldn’t be far off the mark to call him Roth’s spiritual godfather.