This is simply the best of the all the Rambo sequels. After the comic book capers of Rambo 3 the confusingly entitled Rambo marks a welcome return to the real world and is, at the first of excessive simplicity, simply the best use of the character since First Blood.
At the start of the film it appears that John Rambo has finally found his place in the world, living an apparently contended live in northern Thailand. When a team of US missionaries attempt to hire him for a trip into Burma Rambo warns them to go home before becoming reluctantly convinced by the sole female in the group (Julie Benz) to drop them off.
Aiding a village the missionaries find themselves caught up in a viscous and bloody attack on the village. The violence here is relentless and disturbing. There’s no glamourising of violence here – bullets carve huge, bloody holes in victims and pain is told through dreadful, stomach churning screams.
Rambo’s return to normality is cut short when the missionaries’ leader arrives with the news that the team are hostages of the Burmese military and asks him to transport a team of mercenaries he’s hired to free them.
It’s here that the truth behind the apparently calmer, more settled Rambo is revealed. A disturbing collage of scenes from the earlier films, providing a nice opportunity to include the late Richard Crenna as Colonel Trautman, shows that John’s as tormented by his past as ever.
Agreeing to guide the mercenaries the aging Rambo finds himself the target of scorn from their leader Lewis (Graham McTavish), a former SAS trooper who fails to recognise the dangerous nature of the beast he’s mocking. It’s here that the film becomes slightly self-aware; Lewis is a Rambo wannabe – the very epitome of a solider modeling himself on the action films of the 80’s.
The arrival in Burma is where the movie really begins, quickly disowning Rambo and leaving him with the boat the hired guns soon find themselves at risk from a squad of Burmese soldiers – the perfect opportunity for Rambo to show off his prowess with a bow. Again the violence is devastating – this is not a film for the squeamish.
Slightly too readily the team of mercenaries fall under Rambo’s command as he leads an assault on the camp where the hostages are kept. It’s probably not a huge spoiler if I say the attack’s successful and at least some of the hostages get to go home.
The supporting cast is largely unknown, joining Stallone, McTavish and Benz is ex-Corrie star Matthew Marsden as a youthful merc nicknamed ‘Schoolboy’ by his team mates. Marsden’s character is perhaps a youthful echo of Rambo, showing a sense of bravery and conscience missing from the rest of his team.
Visibly older and heavier than his previous outings in the role Stallone has endured some cruel jibes at the decision to revisit the scene of former glories. As is often the case those who commented ahead of seeing miss the point, this film is fully aware of Rambo’s greater age and works around it.
The idea that it’s time for another way of life permeates the movie and the final scene appears to mark the end of Rambo’s and adventures – long time fans will appreciate the imagery which accompanies the franchises’ signature theme ‘It’s A Long Road’ and closes the film.
Despite the brutality of the fight scenes this is a massively enjoyable film which mixes action with soul and emotional depth.
Lacking the huge expectations of the upcoming Indiana Jones 4 Rambo delivers on all fronts. The soundtrack helps pump the adrenaline and by the time you leave the cinema you’ll be feeling like you could wage a coup single-handed!
Rambo invades UK cinemas Friday 22nd February 2008