Sunday, April 4, 2010
Wow. This is a violent movie. If there is one lesson to take from this film, it is this: don't vacation in Burma. Not that it's called Burma anymore, it's called Myanmar, but you know what I mean. Unless you wrote this movie, in which case you clearly don't know what I mean because the state is only called Burma in this movie. Stallone, I'm looking at you.
Before I continue, I have to point out how fantastically violent this film is. Arrows through the head? Got 'em. Death by land mine? Right here. Mortar shells turning people into meat puzzles? Yep. Disemboweling? Check. High caliber bullets literally cutting people in half? Yawn. The best gratuitous ripping-out-of-a-throat scene since Road House? Oh, yeah. But wait, there's a plot to frame this violence, too.
Like Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III before it, Rambo begins by finding the titular hero in Southeast Asia. Like the last two movies, John Rambo is surly and unwilling to go help people in need. Why? Well, from a story point of view, it gives him a metaphorical place to go as a character. In practice, though, it's so we can see Sylvester Stallone mush his words and poorly enunciate Rambo's problems with war and patriotism. This time around, a group of Christian missionaries want Rambo to boat them up a river into Burma so they can give aid to the Christian Karen people, a religious and ethnic minority in Myanmar. The missionaries include Julie Benz, who is the only one of them that is nice to Rambo. You would think nice missionaries would be a dime a dozen, but apparently not. Since this is a Rambo movie and the missionaries are innocents entering a region that has been going through civil war since the late 1940s, I'll let you guess what happens. The missionaries are successful and return home without incident? Wow. You've never seen a movie, have you? No, they get captured by some vile Burmese military men. Rambo decides to rescue them (or, at least Julie Benz) and accompanies a group of mercenaries hired by the missionaries' church on their mission.
When I started this movie, I wasn't convinced that Stallone still had what it takes to headline an action pic. I'll give the man credit where it's due, though; he was 62 years old when this was released. While Sly may not have the athletic physique that he once had, he's still obviously strong. In this film, he looks like a chimney with arms. On steroids. You rarely notice Stallone's age, which is no small miracle. There were only two aspects of this movie that made me realize how old he really is. First, he never takes his shirt off. Since his back and pecs co-headlined Rambo III, I noticed that right away. The second was more subtle; there is a point where Rambo seizes control of an anti-aircraft gun and uses it against unarmored ground troops. That's not so strange, admittedly, but he stops to reload. The Rambo I'm used to would either throw the two ton gun at the bad guys when it ran out of bullets or disappeared into the jungle, only to reappear right behind a villain and garroted his foe.
This movie is written and directed by Stallone, and it's times like these that I like to point out that he has been nominated for both an acting and writing Oscar. I assume they were both for Cobra. Honestly, the acting isn't too bad here, aside from Stallone's own limitations. There are a lot of stereotypical characters, but they act to the limits of their stereotypes. The main problem here is not the acting or direction, but the writing --- although it is kind of hard to separate the writing and directing, since Stallone was responsible for both. During the opening credits, a newsreel is played, giving an account of the Burmese civil war and showing a lot of real-life footage of people being brutally massacred. This isn't a movie that condemns violence, so showing real people dying as partial justification for the hero's actions is reprehensible. It would be as bad as playing documentary 9/11 victim footage during the opening credits to Die Hard 5: Al Qaeda Dies Harder. Worse than the documentary footage is the portrayal of the Myanmar government's troops. While I believe that slaughter, rape, and brutality happen on a regular basis there, I find it hard to swallow that every single troop is WWII-propaganda-era Yellow Journalism evil, and I doubt that the brutality is only one-sided. Seriously, these troops love torturing, raping, and murdering the Karen, to a degree that would even show up on a Family Feud poll of "Things to Do In Burma."
There were two ideas that I really liked in this film. The first was when one of the mercenaries gave a line about how the church was sending the devil to do the Lord's work. That is actually a good idea for a movie. It was just a throwaway line here, but I would totally watch a movie about that. The other point involved the evolution of Rambo's character. In the other movies, Rambo is reluctant to accept his badass-ness. He couldn't identify with the rest of the world because he knew how easily he could kill anyone. In Rambo, he finally owns up to his abilities. He accepts that he is a weapon, built to destroy. This effectively eliminates the need for self-pitying monologues or rants from this character, a change that I wholeheartedly approve.
Overall, he acting and plot are about what you would expect from this acting/directing/writing triple threat. While the plot is dumb and the characters pretty shallow, the violence more than makes up for those petty nuisances.