Given the number of decades he’d spent in genre flicks by 2008, you’d be forgiven for expecting Sylvester Stallone to at least know how to direct an action sequence, but Rambo would very much prove you wrong. See also The Expendables. But don’t.
In his fourth outing, our headband-wearing trauma-merchant has settled in Thailand working as a blacksmith and dabbling in illegal snake dealing on the side. He’s approached by a group of missionaries to ferry them into Burma, where Christians are being killed, children abducted and women taken as sex slaves. Fun!
Stallone uses real news footage of atrocities to set the scene, creating a wholly uncomfortable viewing experience, whose combination of actual warzones and exploitation thrills appears deeply misjudged. The original trilogy‘s violence, while often visceral, was clearly removed from reality. Even by the series’ violent standards this feels gratuitous, unpleasant and racist.
For reasons known only to Stallone, Rambo contains among the most kills ever put to film, only behind full-scale war pictures like The Lord of the Rings and Saving Private Ryan or disaster movies like Titanic. Particularly troubling is the involvement of children, robbing the franchise of its previous entertainment value when the bloodletting was strictly between consenting adults.
That this bloodbath is rendered in CGI makes it more meaningless still, as the physical heft of its predecessors is replaced by bright red bursts of digital blood and weightless-looking explosions, making for a sequel as boring as it is depressing. Julie Benz serves as Rambo’s only motivation to commit massacre after massacre, in a situation that the missionaries caused in the first place. It’s like Silence as directed by Sylvester Stallone.
Even the foley and Instagram filter-esque colour grading stand out for all the wrong reasons, while Stallone shoots using sub-Paul Greengrass shaky cam without checking whether you can see what’s going on or hear the dialogue over the ambient noise, although audibility has never been much of a concern for Sly. And the whole thing is disconcertingly dedicated to the late Richard Crenna, which seems like adding insult to injury after injury after injury.