Often mocked but never bettered, Stallone's John Rambo was the true action man of the 1980s. Now he's back — somewhat wiser, a lot older and still just as hard to understand when he speaks. You'd think he might have gone for some elocution lessons in the intervening 20 years. (Actually, the best thing about the DVD is that you can watch the film with subtitles.)
A bit of background for all of you born after 1988. In First Blood (1982), Vietnam veteran Rambo starts a one-man war against a small-town police force after they mistreat him. In Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Johnny boy is sent on a top-secret operation to recover POWs still being held hostage in Vietnam. And in Rambo III, our hero — who is now living in a Buddhist monastary in Thailand — has to rescue his former commanding officer who has been taken hostage in Afghanistan (back then the bad guys were the Soviets, not the Taliban). Now we get to the latest instalment, and Rambo is still living in Thailand. But he's abandoned the Buddhist lifestyle and runs boat trips and catches snakes to make a living. He's happy with the quiet life. Then along come some pushy missionaries, who want him to run them up the river into war-torn Burma to deliver medicine and food to a Karen village suffering at the hands of the evil, ruthless military regime. He refuses, but eventually gives in to the charms of the lovely Sarah (Benz). And as you'd expect, the missionaries get taken hostage and so Rambo and a bunch of mercenaries hired by the church have to rescue them. With lots of extreme violence along the way.
Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the film. And no, I never expected that I'd be saying that. I can't recall the last time I saw that many exploding heads and flying body parts. Stallone once again reminds us what action films are all about. And I have to say it's more grounded in reality than a lot of recent films in the genre. It's not perfect by any means — some of the dialogue is incredibly clunky, and a lot of the characters are straight out of cliché city — but it's tightly cut together and the action scenes are some of the best in recent memory (take note, Bruce, for Die Hard 5). There's been a lot of criticism about the violence — bullets rip bodies to shreds, landmines blow limbs off, machetes remove heads and Rambo rips one man's throat out with his bare hand — but it's no more gratuitous than Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. It's a Rambo film — no more, no less —and a pretty decent one. If you buy or rent it expecting just that, you too may be pleasantly surprised.
EXTRAS *** A director's commentary with Sly (and yes, subtitles are required); 7 featurettes about the making of the movie; 4 deleted scenes.