Monday, August 18, 2008
Rambo Mondays concluded with Rambo IV: Rambo (or maybe it's Rambo: First Blood Part 2: Part 2 or Rambo III: Part 2: First Blood Part 4. It's really hard to figure this shit out). It's simultaneously the best and worst of the series. It's the worst because of the corny writing and manipulative storytelling that is layered so thick in self-seriousness, including an inappropriate use of actual war footage. It would be offensive if it's message wasn't so muddled. On the one hand, it seems to genuinely want to make a political statement, and try to show the brutal realities of war. On the other hand, all the best parts of the movie involve awesome, awesome violence, effectively cancelling out the message.
And that gets us to why this might also be the best Rambo movie: the awesome fucking action. I've mentioned before that I'm not really a big Stallone fan, but I think it's clear here and in Rocky Balboa that he's matured into a reasonably talented director, and the action in this one is top notch. It's on a smaller scale than the last 2 entries, but feels twice as exciting and accomplished. And it's graphic as all hell. I mean, if this had been a horror movie and not an action movie, there's no way they would have given this an R rating. The action is more brutal and mean spirited than Bad Boys 2. It's like Verhoeven without the irony. And even though it's more "serious" than the other Rambo movies, it's conversely more fun for people who like violence. The last 15 minutes or so is just a rapid succession of "oh snap! that's awesome!" moments.
So it's hard to say if this one is my favorite... it's the best made on a technical level, the most exciting and the most fun (though I'm not sure it's trying to be). But it takes itself too seriously (I know, they all take themselves too seriously, but this one shows actual war footage and presumes itself to have actual significance to current events), and muddles any "message" it had by combining dark, disturbing violence with over-the-top action-extravaganza fun. I don't think Stallone had a clear idea of what movie he was making here, but his technical skill shines through, and as an action movie lover, I can't dismiss that. This is an A minus action movie trapped inside a C plus corny B-movie, trapped inside of a D minus political/artistic statement.
So, as far as the entire series goes, this one might be the most watchable, but perhaps it's overall value ties with parts one and two, with Rambo III coming in at an affectionate last place. This isn't a great action series, but it has great moments, and I enjoyed all 4 movies. I'm a little surprised that the character became such an icon, except in the sense that part 3 does kinda represent the pinnacle of 80's action movie excess, and maybe works as a symbol for the Reagan era. Other than that, the series' positive contributions to the genre are minimal (I certainly don't think the style has been as influential as Die Hard or Terminator 2, and it's probably responsible for inspiring a lot of bad 80's action movies), but I'd still be on board if they made another one. I'm guessing Stallone would helm it again and it would more directly follow-up on this one, so maybe they could call it Rambo 2.