The Plot: Many years after his last documented conflict, John Rambo is living peacefully and simply in Thailand. After a great deal of convincing, he agrees to escort a small group of Christian aid workers across the border into the hot zone that is Burma via his boat. Not long after their arrival, the village that the group has come to help is attacked by the Burmese army and Rambo is called upon to lead a gang of mercenaries into the region to rescue the missing American civilians.
The Review: While I enjoy and appreciate the original three Rambo films for what they are (relatively mindless eighties action movies), they have never graced my list of favorite action films. This, the fourth installment of the confusingly titled Rambo/First Blood franchise, continues the tradition of being about mindless action, but adds a great production value, a cast of competent actors, and a lot more realism than we've seen in the series up to this point to the mix.
With the possible exception of First Blood, Rambo is a massive step up in the plot department. This feels a bit odd to say though, considering that there is very little substance to the story in this film. The plot of Rambo is literally as simple as "some people are taken hostage and Rambo and co. have to get them back". There are certainly statements being made in this film about the state of affairs in Burma and what it means to have compassion or contempt for your fellow man, but these things don't play too large of a role in the story line. Rambo knows it's place in the modern film landscape and doesn't try to over-step it's bounds by becoming too complicated for it's own good like so many action films try to do these days. It is short, simple, and to the point. And speaking of short, though IMDb claims that Rambo is ninety three minutes long, I'm (almost) positive that it is in fact shorter than an hour and a half. Either that or my cell phone's clock is broken.
I dare say that the one major flaw in Rambo is also one of it's greatest strengths. I am of course speaking of the violence. Not since the horrifically realistic opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan have I seen brutally eye-opening violence of such severity in a movie. If you think Stephen Spielberg's beaches of Normandy scene was gory and gut-wrenchingly horrendous though, you haven't seen anything until you've watched Rambo. As big of a fan of horror and action movies as I am, it takes a lot to wow me in the violence/gore department, but I found myself with my mouth agape at several points throughout Rambo. The violence and shocking imagery in the action scenes of this film simply cannot be described. You have to see it to believe it. As I said, this aspect of the movie is both it's greatest flaw and it's greatest strength. There were some people who walked out of the theater immediately following the scene in which the Burmese army attacked and ravaged the small village that the aid workers were attempting to help, proving that the reality of the situation is just too much for some to stomach. Then again, had the violence been toned down or avoided in any way a lot of Rambo's validity would have gone right out the window and it would have become just as dismissible as the previous installments of the series.
At 61 years old, Sylvester Stallone hasn't played the character of John Rambo for just under two whole decades, but take my word for it when I say that he's still got it. His character felt just as capable of causing massive amounts of carnage as he always has, and any shortcomings which he may show in Rambo are completely understandable based upon the age of the character, not just the age of the actor portraying him. Not only did Stallone bring the character of Rambo back with perfection however, he also wrote and directed the film expertly. The men playing the mercenaries accompanying Rambo on his rescue mission were over the top in every way that you would expect characters like theirs to be, but were also likable and all well cast. Julie Benz and Paul Schulze's characters were also stereotypical in ways that served to advance the plot and character development of the film. The Burmese soldiers served their purpose well, which was simply to make the audience hate them to the point that they were rooting for them to die. As much of a surprise as it is for me to say it, for what it was, Rambo was probably about as perfect a film as it could have been.
The Verdict: The action of Rambo is stunning in both the sense that it is shocking and incredible to watch. The film doesn't try to be overly deep or intelligent and has the piece of mind to remain short and to the point, which is what any movie of this caliber should do. It has an impact and is both well made and fun to watch. Rambo isn't Shakespeare, but it's a damn good movie.