We’ve come a long way since First Blood. Rambo has turned from a meaningful piece on Vietnam War veterans into an over the top, stylistic action gore fest. While it’s a shame Rambo has taken the route of the sequels, dropping any subtext in the process, this is still a ridiculously fun action movie when it finally gets started.

Writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone attempts to draw attention to the horrific civil war in Burma and does so without flinching. Anyone even remotely sensitive to violent, disturbing images needs to stay away from Rambo. The opening newsreel footage is real, and sets the tone for the upcoming violence in eerie, believable fashion.

The villains are vile, and there’s little question that their eventual demise is warranted. Children are tossed into flaming buildings, women are gang raped, and for entertainment, innocent hostages are forced into ponds filled with land mines. The enemy is faceless and nameless, adding a cold, calculated heartlessness without even saying a word.

Questions about Stallone’s age are thrown out. As with Rocky Balboa, he looks weathered as if he has been through hell and back. It fits with both of his trademark characters given their experiences and the length of time that has passed since the last film in each franchise. The cheeky dialogue is cringe-worthy at times, impossible to dissect in others, and somehow effective in the end.

The Rambo character is brought out of retirement quickly because of a group of missionaries, led by actress Julie Benz. There’s a relationship or affection of some kind there, though it’s never brought to the front of the story. It’s Rambo’s only reason for going into the war zone, and this critical plot point remains relatively unclear.

There’s a similar feel to Rambo – First Blood Part II, given the setting. The boat rides, jungle brawls, and eventual goals of rescuing hostages are repeated from the first sequel. The pacing is also familiar, leading to a slow build before Rambo’s eventual rampage and audience payoff. Brian Tyler’s soundtrack is a fine way to mix new and old themes to connect Rambo with its predecessors.

While the violence and bloodiness are high for most of this action outing, the finale will be a rough ride for even the most hardened gore fanatics. People are split in half by gunfire, gutted by knives, dismembered, pummeled by rocks, exploded, or decapitated numerous times.

While a few stealthy kills are present, most of Rambo’s last slaughter is done almost entirely from a jeep turret and the style is lacking because of it. It’s repetitive after a few minutes, and doesn’t stop for at least ten. The repeated footage doesn’t help either, as an explosion is used three times, and a gunshot victim is used twice. There are also some rapid edits that feel unnatural, probably from cutting the film to land an R from the MPAA. This is borderline content even for that rating.

If the intent was to make people aware of this long-standing civil war, the context here wasn’t the best choice. The brutal scenes of torture and death work, but once Rambo begins his massacre, the audience hardly cares about trying to find an answer for the real life slaughter. The ending, while a fine cap for the series, tries to come off as a tender, touching moment. Given what the crowd has just experienced, it doesn’t feel like it fits this movie given the glaring change of tone and emotion.

This is an action movie created in a way they’re rarely done anymore. It’s certainly entertaining for anyone looking for a revitalized ‘80s action style, yet Rambo is terribly uneven in terms of pacing, story, and dialogue. It’s the finale that turns this into a Rambo sequel, and one that ends the franchise on a far better note than the third.[xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

rambo

With a crisp, clear, and clean look, Rambo makes for stunning hi-def viewing. Sharpness is high, and details come along with it. The color tones take on an earthy tone, accurate to the source seen in theaters. Black levels are incredibly rich and bold. Some of the darker scenes exhibit some noise, and grain spikes notably at times, the latter an intentional effect. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

A full 7.1 DTS Master is the audio preference here. While maybe somewhat light in the rear channels at times, this is a blistering, active sound presentation. Bullets fly through every speaker, as does the blood splatter from the slaughtered soldiers. Bass from a few massive explosions is powerful, and still provides enough of a punch so that it’s hard to miss. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Stallone goes solo for a commentary track. As a director and star, his insights are excellent, including addressing the ways to bring the character back after the absence. Six featurettes offer various looks at the film, and one piece (though short) looks at the issues within Burma. All of the featurettes are worth viewing (and presented in HD). Some deleted scenes and a picture-in-picture option when viewing the film round off the decent extras. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]


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