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Rambo: Still Buff, Bandannaed & Bad-Ass
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RamboYesterday saw the release of Sylvester Stallone‘s Rambo, and while it didn’t top the box office (the top slot went to the spoof comedy Meet The Spartans), it did come in second with a gross of $6.7 million, making it the best opening day for a Sylvester Stallone film.

Not bad considering 1) it’s a January opening (a month with notoriously poor box office returns); 2) it’s up against January record breaker Cloverfield as well as Oscar-nominated films; and 3) it’s violent as hell.

Is Rambo really violent? Yes. Too violent? Maybe. Too violent for me? Absolutely, and not because there’s blood and guts flying everywhere. It’s because the violence is based in reality — this violence is happening in the world right now — it’s not fake.

Rambo star Sylvester Stallone, who also directed and co-wrote the film, states that his purpose in setting this fourth installment in Burma (currently known as Myanmar) was to expose the mass atrocities of the lengthy civil war raging there. Well, consider me exposed. Unfortunately, I’m sure most of the people watching this film either thought it was just another bad-ass action flick or, rather, another over-the-top action flick.

And, at it’s heart, that’s what it is. When going to see a movie like this, you have to take it at that — simply, an ACTION flick. If you walk away with more from it, that’s great. Otherwise, don’t try to dissect it for its acting merits, don’t shred it for its seemly preposterous plot line, don’t knock it for all its graphic violence, and definitely don’t be shocked at the actions of its hero — there’s a reason he’s there: to save the day by any means possible!

Like I said in the beginning, it was a bit too violent for me — I don’t get off on seeing innocent people raped, tortured, and killed. It’s not my thing. But boy do I love it when a good-guy action hero opens up a can o’ whup ass on the baddies. (Hey, they had it coming.) It makes me wish there really was a one-man Rambo army out there to save the oppressed, tortured victims of the world.

Unfortunately, there isn’t, which is why the Rambo films, as violent as they are, are so appealing to U.S. audiences. But one thing that might not be clear is this: The Rambo movies are actually anti-war. John Rambo was bred by the U.S. military to be a killing machine, so in all of the films, we see his struggle with that. That’s because Rambo is really a good man who’s put into these violent situations where he has to either kill or be killed (or stand by as others are killed). This fourth installment in the First Blood franchise gives us that guy once more. Reviewers at sites like Ain’t It Cool, First Showing, and Film School Rejects — those guys “get it.” You don’t have to love the movie to understand what kind of movie it is and what it’s supposed to be. Too bad the mainstream press doesn’t seem to understand that.

At least the dude at the NY Times, while not giving it a glowing review, showed that he knew what kind of film he was reviewing:

Mr. Stallone is smart enough — or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not — to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back.

Why can’t more reviewers get a clue? Check out the following pull-quotes from reviews from mainstream publications:

The reviewer at The Detroit News is obviously someone who appreciates the John Rambo character, but perhaps doesn’t understand him well enough:

It’s an unfortunate ending for a once-great screen character who deserves to be known for more than the waste he laid to others.

WHAT ELSE is Rambo known for than the waste he laid to others, can you tell me? That’s his thing — KILLING!!! He’s a killing machine. He knows it, you should too. Just look at the Rambo Death Chart compiled by the LA Times (see chart here just below at right; click for larger view).

Rambo Death ChartMind you, in the first movie, he mainly disarmed and maimed his adversaries, but that’s because he had returned from the Vietnam War and was just drifting trying to find his way. He was still shell shocked. In Rambo: First Blood II, he once again has to use his Green Beret training for a government-sanctioned mission to search for POWs in Vietnam; in Rambo III, he’s back behind the machine gun to help the Afghan Mujahedeen freedom fighters battle the Soviets — and lots o’ people are killed. Therefore, if you have a problem with how part four portrays this character, then you obviously have had a problem with his depiction in every movie after First Blood. Rambo does not change the man we’ve come to know in the sequels, but rather puts in him retirement, then takes him out for another rescue mission.

But, at least that reviewer wants some good closure. This review from E! Online totally misses the point:

The problem is, even as mindless violence, the movie fails.

Oh my goodness, it’s NOT mindless violence!!! This piece was horrible, so I won’t give it another mention. Instead, take a look at what THR had to say:

In short, No. 4 is one big snore.

Really, a SNORE? So, you were sitting there, watching a movie that depicts innocent villagers getting blown to pieces, babies being crushed to death, women being raped, and a hundred or so people being mowed down by machine-gun fire, and you’re like … Zzzzzz …? I guess, who needs Ambien when they can just watch a little graphic violence before bedtime.

And here’s one from my hometown paper, NY Daily News:

This time, the fantasy is so over-the-top, the enemies so comically monstrous and their deaths so gory, that you may just throw your head back and roar with laughter.

ROAR with laughter? So, you were sitting there watching gory deaths and monstrous behavior — based on events really going on in that part of the world — and you are throwing your head back … HA HA HA!!!. Obviously, you find it easy to sleep at night, why don’t you and the snoozy guy from THR get a room?

Lastly from USA Today, I disagreed with everything this reviewer wrote, but what really annoyed me was this:

Now, decades later, he’s still in top shape, despite the obvious lack of gym equipment in the Thai jungles.

Umm… because the only way to stay in shape is the use of gym equipment? Sure, that’s how Rambo got so fit in the first place, right? While fighting in the jungles of ‘Nam, he frequently hit the treadmill. He’s been ultra muscular for decades and since muscle has memory, he’d have to work hard at losing that physique. Perhaps if he had spent the last twenty years as a sloth, loafing on the couch, chowing down on fast food, then he’d have lost that muscle mass. But he’s been in a Thai jungle, forging his own weapons, hunting his own food, and trapping wild snakes — not exactly the lap of luxury. Does a guy living like that really need exercise equipment? C’mon.

Now, how he went from his Rambo III bulk to his hulking Rambo status is another story (which, also, has nothing to do with hitting the gym, but rather with Stallone’s use of Human Growth Hormone). My point: Rambo don’t need no stinkin’ gym! He’s beyond roughing it.

RamboAnd speaking of roughing it, the one part I did laugh at was when the mission workers’ pastor comes one night to Rambo for help in the pouring rain and he just walks into Rambo’s open hut (or tent?). There’s no door!!! That I don’t get. Why build/erect a shelter that does not provide total shelter? I don’t know, maybe it’s my lack of knowledge of Thai jungle housing.

The other chuckle I got was in the same segment. Rambo agrees to lead a band of mercenaries to Burma to find the captured missionaries. Rambo asks the pastor when the group will be ready to go. “When you are,” the pastor replies. Next thing we see is Rambo forging a new blade. Out of curiosity, how long would something like that take? Judging by the fact that he’s doing all this in his rained-on hut with some simple blacksmithing tools, I doubt his new blade would be ready by morning. Or, did the mercenaries wait around for Rambo to finish? Because, those missionaries were being held for nearly two weeks, I don’t think they should have to wait for Rambo to make weapons to be rescued.

See, I didn’t take Rambo so seriously that I didn’t know when WHEN to laugh. That being said, the crowd I saw Rambo with laughed in all the right places, cheered for our hero when he did his usually saving, and clapped when the credits rolled, as they should have. I’m sure fans of the First Blood movies will thoroughly enjoy Rambo and while Stallone has said this is the final installment, hey, you never know. Rambo V could be another decade or two away and if Stallone ever does don the bandanna, wield the blade, and man the guns again, I’ll be there again on opening day to cheer him on.

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