After watching the three original Rambo films I didn’t hold out much hope for the fourth, but knowing that I’d started the day with my first viewing of the Rambo trilogy I knew I’d have to cap it with the latest installment. At this point I was ready for the series to switch gears again but instead of a full tilt switch in either the drama or action direction, Rambo found a middle ground where it dialed up both sides of the scale to enormous proportions. Rambo is the single most violent film I’ve seen all year, so be prepared for copious amounts of blood spray and limb dismemberment.
Hailed as “the best Rambo yet” (Bloody-Disgusting.com), the fourth film of the Rambo series stars Stallone, Julie Benz (Showtime’s “Dexter”), Matthew Marsden (Resident Evil: Extinction) and Paul Schulze (Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie”). Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Stallone) has survived a lifetime of near-death ordeals and has since withdrawn into a simple and secluded existence in Thailand. But when the hero leaves his home after being recruited to protect the missionaries on a humanitarian aid effort, Rambo is faced with the impossible task of rescue efforts during a civil war in Burma. This brand new extended cut features nine extra minutes of the film, plus nearly 90 minutes of newly created bonus materials including “RAMBO: To Hell and Back” – Sylvester Stallone’s video production diary.
When a group of Christian missionaries look for passage into the war-torn Burma, they find a man named John Rambo to help them to their destination by way of his longboat. Though reluctant at first, Rambo sees the passion the missionaries present and is convinced by Sarah (Julie Benz), a particularly devoted individual who appeals to Rambo’s deeply hidden soft side. He knows their survival is unlikely and when word comes back that they’ve gone missing, Rambo joins forces with hired mercenaries to find the captured missionaries and free them from the vicious Nationalist Army.
There are a few things to note first off about Rambo. The first is that Stallone is old and occasionally looks like his face has been stung by a swarm of bees, but that’s a minor detail, considering he gets so covered in blood towards the end you don’t even notice after the first twenty minutes or so. The other thing to note, and this is the most important, is this is an absolutely brutal film. It’s not brutal just because it can be, it’s brutal in a historical sense considering everything recreated on screen is almost shot-for-shot what’s actually happening in Burma. Granted Vietnam veterans don’t usually go in and shoot the hell out of some Nationalist Army squads, but what the Nationalist Army does to its residents and prisoners is positively sickening to watch and you’re often torn between being disgusted with the state of the world that such atrocities could be going on and also wanting to root for more violence just so we can see Rambo obliterate everyone.
While Rambo is every bit an action movie that packs on myriads of graphical deaths and massacres, it also makes a bit of a political statement, as all of the Rambo movies are known to do. While Rambo is found living in Northern Thailand, he rarely engages in any physical or war-like activities anymore, instead choosing to be a snake wrangler for a nearby village and transporting roamers in his longboat. He knows full well about the atrocities going on in Burma and packs a pistol with him wherever he goes. Oddly there’s no knife like in the previous three movies and the lack of the knife almost makes the film feel completely different simply because there’s no brutal knife action (although Rambo does fashion himself with a machete).
The film’s first taste of brutality comes when he’s transporting the Christian missionaries across the river and they come in contact with pirates who demand that Sarah be given to them, as well as any valuables. Taking into considering his feelings and respect for Sarah, Rambo refuses to let this happen and carefully plans what order to kill the pirates in before opening fire and completely wasting the entire boat crew in a matter of seconds. In a way you see it coming, but considering we haven’t seen Rambo use a regular gun in close range like that before (he’s usually wielding the big honkers), it came as a bit of a surprise as well. After the shock wears off you realize that what you just saw was visually awesome and begin settling in for a nice ol’ romp through the jungles.
Of course the film eventually takes another drastic turn and focuses away from Rambo for awhile, which seems kind of odd for a film named after him, but whatever. I do think, however, that by taking the focus off of Rambo for a second and showing us what the Nationalist Army does to villages and missionaries we can get a better idea of the atrocities going on in Burma. It’s kind of weird to shove this political and social message into a film like Rambo, as you really go to see the film for the action and not be given a history lesson and it gives you the moral dilemma, making you question whether Rambo killing everyone is justified or not. Despite my knowing killing is wrong, I have to say that I give a resounding “hell yes” to Rambo killing everyone, as the Nationalist Army attack on the village is as difficult to watch as it is gory.
Once we refocus on Rambo he’s ferrying a group of mercenaries into Burma to rescue the missionaries. The characters introduced here range from funny, intriguing and annoying, as we have to listen to their overzealous commander Lewis (Graham McTavish) curse up a storm. I don’t mind when f-words and the like are used in frequency, but Lewis’s mouth just wouldn’t stop spilling them out to the point I wanted Rambo to use his fancy new machete and lop off his head. Of course you feel bad later when Lewis is injured, but man was he ever annoying on that boat.
For the rest of the film we see varying degrees of Rambo. He goes from squad commander to lone soldier, unloading a torrent of .50 caliber bullets from a truck mounted machine gun. It’s almost kind of cheap for Rambo to be hiding behind a shielded .50 caliber machine gun while letting the mercenaries actually get in on the close range combat, but watching the soldiers get mowed down in such quick and gory fashion is pure satisfaction. Plus Rambo gets to whip out the machete after the bullets run out, so we get to see a fair amount of bodily destruction not caused by rapid bullet fire.
The movie is definitely not for the faint of heart as it not only starts out with real news footage of the current state of Burma but also the absolute insanity of the death count (236, the most of any Rambo film). It’s got its share of shocking visuals and questionable material and earns every bit of its R rating. The film strays from the previous two with its more serious tone and because of that everything feels a bit more real.
Overall Rambo comes Recommended. It has its flaws (some of the CGI looks a bit hokey or oddly timed) but they’re easily dismissed simply for the entertainment factor that this film presents. While it feels a bit like a direct-to-DVD venture at times with the acting, Stallone did a fine job not only acting and writing this film but also directing it. The new extended cut that we get here has nine more minutes of footage, although there really isn’t much that stood out to me as new. I think I’d seen most of the “new” footage when it was included on the previous Blu-ray as deleted scenes, because what was included here genuinely didn’t really lower or raise the quality of the film any. You won’t go wrong with either cut, but it really doesn’t matter which one you choose.
Great googly moogly, we got some bad-ass technical specs going on with this release. Rambo comes housed in a standard Elite Blu-ray case, with the only real difference being between this release and the previous one is that there is no digital copy. The menu system for Rambo is nicely done and overall it’s what I’ve come to expect from Lionsgate.
Moving onto the technical presentation for the film we have a solid mix of HD beauty. The visual transfer is flawless as you’d expect a recent production to be, boasting plenty of detail in the myriad of jungle sequences as well as a plenty of detail on character faces and the like. On top of the character detail we also get to see the films gore in glorious 1080p, which will no doubt make some of the sequences even harder to watch for some when you realize that piece of body matter flying across the screen is a bit of brain. For audio the film hammers out an English 7.1 DTS HD MA track that is absolutely thunderous. Bombs going off and gun fire all around the room, Rambo is an impressive feast for both the eyes and ears.
It seems that Lionsgate expects you to own the previous Blu-ray release already as with the extras there is only the aforementioned Production Diary and nothing else. Considering how full the previous release was this is a bit disappointing, but when you realize this is just a cash-in for The Expendables, it makes a great deal more sense. However despite the loss of all the previous extras (which are only a true “loss” if you throw the previous release out when you pick this one up…assuming you do), the input we get from Stallone on this release is quite fantastic and goes a long way into giving you an idea for what it was like to make this film. The piece covers a wide range of production days, but it clocks in at about an hour…which makes me wonder where the other thirty minutes of special features that the press release talked about are.
That wraps up the Blu-ray release of Rambo and between the technical presentation and new extras, a Rambo fan would be hard pressed to pass this release up. However if you’re like me and are only mildly entertained by the violence and gore (and the political/moral messages buried underneath), then this new cut really doesn’t make much of a difference. Worth a Rental for the curious to see the new extended cut (of which it is dubbed as John Rambo in the opening credits), but other than that you’d be better off holding onto the first Blu-ray release.
Rambo: Extended Cut arrives on Blu-ray on July 27th.