Screenwriters: Art Monterastelli, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden
Running time: 91 mins
Firing a napalm-soaked arrow straight into the heart of postmodernism, Sylvester Stallone's resurrection of the Rambo franchise is a no-frills, old school action flick that presses the right buttons, albeit in a distinctly primitive manner. In an age where action movies are dominated by cutting edge technology and self-referential winks at the audience, Rambo takes itself very seriously with a gadget-free hero forced to improvise in a harsh jungle environment. This is the very type of film that was deemed terribly stale by the end of the 1980s, but the genre has now come round full circle and Rambo's bare bones plot and basic morality tale feels fresh.
A pure 'goodies versus baddies' plot entails a disgruntled John Rambo reluctantly agreeing to sail a group of Christian aid workers into war-torn Burma - only for the kind-hearted Bible-bashers to be captured by the rape and torture-obsessed militia. Teaming up with a bunch of mercenaries, the disturbed Vietnam vet heads into the jungle to stage a rescue mission with the odds stacked well against success. As you can tell, it's hardly the most daringly imaginative premise, but it gets the job done. Above all, the narrative is primarily an excuse for the angry beefcake to gradually restore his self belief and willingness to die for a good cause - and kick some ass in the process.
Donning his sweat-encrusted headband and a hairdo that appears to have been drenched in the Exxon Valdez oil slick, Stallone's performance demonstrates that he can still be a viable action star despite being over 60. His physicality is bolstered by rippling muscles and he bears a suitably haunted look in his eyes from the atrocities that he has previously witnessed. Along with handling the action sequences well, both in front and behind the camera, Stallone exudes a suitable world-weariness throughout the first portion of the film.
The look of abject disdain he gives the lead mercenary on his boat, after being mocked over his age and apparent impotence, hints at an inner struggle to keep the raging fires within his psyche under control. The build-up means that there's a real air of anticipation for Rambo to break free from his mental shackles and go on the rampage, and once he does so it's utterly relentless.
The hints that Rambo is some kind of mythical demi-God may raise the odd eyebrow and encourage accusations of pretentiousness, but why on earth should having pretensions be a crime? It would have been all too easy to resurrect the character and arm him with an array of "I'm getting too old for this s**t" style quips.
Given that the film begins with genuine archive news reports about the very real bloodshed taking place in Burma, it's hard to deem the fictional massacres to be simple escapist fun. The camera seems to delight in conveying bodies being torn apart by bullets, or skulls spliced apart by arrows - leaving the whole enterprise open to accusations that it is operating on the same level as pornography by stimulating our senses in such a manner. That stance would be unfair as the violence does serve a clear plot function, and is therefore not gratuitous.
The massacre of innocent villagers by the Burmese army establishes exactly who the bad guys are, along with where our sympathies lie. So when they are given their deserved comeuppance it's almost hard to suppress a cheer. Admittedly, that's a very base and primitive reaction, but it means that the viewer is engaged with the plot and craving for good to triumph over evil.
An absorbing and simplistic action film, Rambo defies the ageist society we live in while serving up a series of tense action set pieces. Although a predictable yarn, it's pleasing to see one of modern cinema's most iconic heroes roaming the screens again and dispatching a procession of villains. Let's hope his next mission involves a trip to the White House.