Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Sylvester Stallone,
Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Paul Schulze, Maung Maung Khin
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2008
“So what I’m asking is that we compensate you for a few hours of your time that will help change people’s lives.”
“Are you bringing any weapons?”
“Of course not.”
“You’re not changing anything.”
It’s been a good stretch for aging action icons, whether it’s Harrison Ford dusting off the fedora for Indiana Jones, or Sylvester Stallone strapping on the gloves one last time for Rocky. It seemed inevitable that Sly would find a way to bring John Rambo back for one more adventure…and fans can be grateful that the silent, deadly hero has lost none of his style with age.
Actually, preparations were being made for a new Rambo installment before Rocky Balboa was ever in the works, but the powers that be were wise in letting Rocky have his heyday first, and using the success of that franchise’s final chapter and the renewed interest in Stallone to pave the way for Rambo. Sly may be 60, but he’s still got the physique, the menacing attitude, and the screen presence to make our favorite combat veteran a viable presence more than 25 years after his debut.
The Rambo films have been violent and action packed, but they each also had something to say about the world, for anyone who would pause long enough to listen. It was easy for critics to dismiss Stallone’s character as a monosyllabic machismo testosterone machine that laid waste to everything in his path, but consider that First Blood focused on the plight of returning Vietnam veterans and Rambo: First Blood Part II returned to a Vietnam where many of our soldiers were still unaccounted for.
From that point on, the series turned positively prophetic. Rambo III would turn our attention to the goings-on in Afghanistan more than a decade before that nation became a somber part of our everyday life here in the States. Now Rambo, released earlier this year, took us into a terrible 60 year old war in Burma that had been kept mostly out of the headlines for decades, but the recent storm and subsequent efforts to provide aid to the country has made Burma and their situation international news.
The Myanmar government of Burma has been systematically waging war (genocide would be a better term) against the Karen people, and without flinching, Stallone takes us right into the terrible events, where soldiers slaughter, torture, rape and pillage the civilians, sometimes just for pure sport.
John Rambo, since we last saw him, has all but disappeared from the map. He hunts snakes, fishes, and does menial labor. He seems at peace. But a group of missionaries led by Michael (Schulze) approach him. They want transport into Burma so that they can bring medicine, aid, and the Gospel to the suffering Karen people. But Rambo has seen too much…he knows that kind words and gestures will not stop people bent on destroying an entire civilization.
Sarah (Benz) continues to talk to him and spout her idealism, and soon the reluctant Rambo agrees to take them to their destination. They should have listened to him…soldiers sweep down and take the missionaries hostage, where they are starved and tormented. Now, with the aid of a ragtag group of mercenaries hired by the missionaries’ church group, Rambo will once again have to go into the combat zone and into a world where peace will never be possible without victory first.
This is by far the bloodiest Rambo offering yet…each film in the series seemed to set a new benchmark for screen violence, but this one makes any of the prior incarnations seem like a mild PG by comparison. This has to be as close as Stallone could get to an NC 17 without crossing over. Bodies fly apart, limbs are severed, guts are ripped open. The blood flies and spews almost constantly during the brutal climax. This is not one for the squeamish.
But in a sense, that’s true to formula for Stallone. The Rambo movies have always delivered a message, and punctuated it with extreme violence as a kind of exclamation point. Rambo opens our eyes to a nation in turmoil that we may have never given a moment’s thought to, as well as what happens when you try to placate evil with kindness instead of vanquishing it.
But that’s if you can see past the relentless bloodshed. Many critics never will, and have found Rambo to be a base exercise in blatant brutality disguised as entertainment. That’s far from true. Yes, there’s a certain guilty pleasure in seeing Rambo jump in and take out some of the villains after watching their unchecked reign of terror, but there is also a starker realism at play. Stallone pushes the envelope, but challenges us as well. In other words, if we think this movie is gruesome, how do we feel about the lives of people who are subjected to it in reality day after day?
Rambo doesn’t speak much, but he always manages to say volumes. Despite his age, I hope Stallone has it in him to find another way to bring John Rambo back. Old warriors never die…they just reload.
I sat in constant amazement of this Blu-ray offering…the jungle settings (actually mostly filmed in Thailand), the rivers, the action sequences…there’s so much at play here that will demonstrate what this technology is capable of delivering. There is a crystal clarity to the imagery that’s almost shocking, and I hate to sound sick, but I have to confess…blood, guts and gore look incredible in high definition. There is a touch of unavoidable grain in one or two darker scenes, but even those stretches are startling in their clarity. Colors are rich, vibrant and natural looking throughout…you almost feel like you could walk right into the screen and into Rambo’s world. This is one of the year’s best.
Blu-ray capability offers us a DTS HD 7.1 soundtrack for Rambo, and as with the video quality, the audio is superb. It’s explosive, dynamic, and constantly using the subwoofer and surrounds. This movie will take you into the middle of the war zone. Dialogue is clean and clear (yes, even Stallone’s mumbles), and the ambient jungle sounds give way to raucous battle scenes with precision and power.
All the extras on the disc are mastered for high definition, which I definitely appreciate. There’s a solid and informative commentary from Stallone, who discusses making the movie, the ideas, and the plight of the Karen people with great detail. You can just listen, or you can activate a picture-in-picture presentation for more looks at the making of the film that occasional breaks for interviews and other bits, then returns you to the film.
There are six featurettes; one on resurrecting Rambo, one on the music, one on the filming, one on the weapons, one on the release of the film and reaction to it, and even a closer look at the struggle in Burma. There are four deleted scenes, a trailer gallery, and a MoLog for higher end players.
Rambo is back with a bloody vengeance. This brutal film may be more than some tastes will allow for, but fans will appreciate seeing Sylvester Stallone in top form on the screen and behind the camera, taking an unflinching look at a real world political crisis and dealing with it as only Rambo can. This is one of the best overall Blu-ray offerings on the market.