Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

TAKING this film seriously is as futile as a non-descript Asian-citizen taking on John Rambo in this, Sylvester Stallone’s latest 80s revivalist project. But I will anyway. And for the multitudes who will see this and applaud the outrageously enjoyably fascistic violence, of course it’s just a movie. No-one would have expected otherwise. But Rambo 4 (aka simply Rambo) with the curious working subtitle, To Hell and Back might as well be a recruitment poster for the American army.

This latest incarnation still claims to be based on David Morrell’s book which inspired First Blood, a book that showed the brutality of the Vietnam War, where John Rambo was essentially a Frankenstein created by the war. Despite the movie of the book (First Blood) turning Rambo into a hero, the film still retained to a (very) small extent, the frustration of the post-war vets. However, by the second film, Rambo was winning Vietnam all by himself, and became a jingoistic no-nonsense fighting machine. The fourth film seems to have a remarkably similar setting to his Vietnam exploits – a big river, rain, rainforest, and a cavalcade of “Asian” baddies.

To what purpose? Why would Stallone and the studios want to resurrect a character from the 80s? Surely Rocky Balboa wasn’t that big a success. There has been plenty written about Rambo in the 80s, how he (along with Schwarzenegger) signified the Reagan hard body image, the perfect fighting-machine to take on the Soviets. His films were complete with frequent, almost voyeuristic, dripping shots of Stallone’s then toned body. This time, there’s no such camera love - Stallone’s well-clothed. However, his politics are undeniable. To be fair, the film does pick on an awful, brutal military regime as his enemy. At the start of the film he pessimistically tells a bunch of Christian missionaries who are seeking to help Karen refugees in Burma, that nothing can ever be changed, things will stay the same. Maybe the fighting in the 80s got to him. But before long, he finds himself sexually attracted in a creepily paternalistic way to one of the Christians, and finds himself part of a rescue mission when the Christians are captured by the Burmese army. In order to save them from a bunch of paedophiles, rapists and sadists (though thankfully says the film, the white woman doesn’t get raped, all the Burmese women do though) Stallone fights back with a bunch of mercenaries.

As far as action films go, it’s a bit ho-hum. The chief villain is sorely underdeveloped, we just know he’s bad because he looks a bit mean with his sunglasses, and there’s a brief scene where he is shown fondling young men. This serves to lessen the impact of the climax, as far as rollercoasters go, there’s not really any explosive thrills or a clammy build-up. The film ends up espousing that you can make a difference – you just need to use a bit of violence. And by god is the violence graphic, thanks to the increasing use of CGI: heads, arms and bullet holes explode on the screen with graphic, grindhouse force. Even the goody-goody Christians end up doing a bit of the ultra-violence, the film says people need to do it to survive. It’s the only way you can survive. The only way to effect change. Why Stallone didn’t bother setting his film in Iraq baffles me, there’s no point in pretending otherwise.