Sylvester Stallone has acted in many impressive roles but the two he is best remembered for are 'Rocky' and 'Rambo'. Starting with ‘First Blood’ in 1982, the 'Rambo' series has spawned four movies so far and now the 71-year-old Stallone is preparing to return to the franchise for a fifth outing.
Even as die-hard fans of the star are brimming with excitement about the film scheduled for release in the fall of 2019, we can’t help but address a certain nagging question: do we really need to see yet another 'Rambo' movie?
Admittedly, the franchise enjoys a certain cult status among its fans. But popularity aside, the 'Rambo' series has not exactly been overburdened with good storytelling. In fact, it might be said that, for the most part, the movies barely have any stories at all.
'First Blood' was a disaster of a plot, plain and simple. There are action movies that take on a deeply philosophical tone and explore the psyche of a soldier. Some other action flicks take a more jovial tone and embrace the absurdity of it all like Stallone's other hit action series, 'The Expendables'.
Then there are movies like this one that can only really be enjoyed with an abundant suspension of disbelief and preferably a brain-ectomy.
The film tries to rework the classic “cowboy rides into town” story but ends up dishing out a mostly meaningless melange of mayhem. The whole story is driven by a conflict that has rather shaky foundations.
The movie moves through the plot like a “That escalated quickly” meme. One moment you meet John Rambo, a charismatic Vietnam vet. The next thing you know, a police officer is hunting him down for no real reason other than that he doesn’t really like Rambo. Then, we see Rambo haunted by the trauma he faced in the war. Before we get to properly explore that trauma, however, Rambo escapes police custody and brings a helicopter down with a rock.
The second 'Rambo' movie did better at the box office than its predecessor but that doesn’t strictly mean that it was a better piece of movie making.
On the one hand, this movie did manage to capture the essential spirit of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. It tells a quick, tightly paced story that showcases one of Stallone’s better performances. Unfortunately, it is also a highly xenophobic and war-mongering tale that alternates between mindless violence and pointless sermons.
Of course, the twisting of facts in the second movie is nothing compared to its 1988 sequel. 'Rambo III' moves away from the Vietnam war and puts Stallone at the centre of yet another Cold War conflict; this time in Afghanistan.
With an increase in big explosions and overly stylized stunts, the movie manages to outdo its predecessors when it comes to pushing the limits of human sensibility. It may still be argued that the movie is entertaining if you are the sort of person who likes to turn off your brain and watch Rambo save the day alongside his new friends, the Afghan freedom fighters (who later morphed into Al-Qaeda).
In 2008, Millennium Films brought out ‘Rambo’, another instalment in the long and violent life of John Rambo. This time Stallone isn’t a soldier but rather a retired man eking out a living as a snake catcher in Myanmar.
Surprisingly enough, this instalment does actually manage a story of sorts and gives new depths to Stallone’s titular hero. For a change, we see John Rambo as more than an unstoppable war machine. The idea that good intentions justify violent means is challenged in the movie which actually manages to ask some poignant questions and portrays the suffering of an oppressed people.
Simultaneously, however, it upped the violence to new heights of meaninglessness. The writers reportedly decided that the only way they could make the movie interesting enough on a low budget was to throw in lots and lots of fake blood and guts.
People die in ‘Rambo’, the way an alcoholic takes his whiskey: quickly, constantly and with no real explanation why.
Two hundred and thirty-six people die in the movie with the first one coming a little over three minutes in and the rest following at a rate of nearly thirteen deaths every five minutes.
Whatever good the writers may have done with the plot is effectively drowned out in a flood of blood and gore. That’s not to say that gore is a bad thing, but all things are better in moderation.
Moderation might just be the thing most missing from the whole of the ‘Rambo’ franchise. Each movie in the series has outdone the last in terms of absurdity and over-the-top action. In fact, it is to Stallone’s credit that his charisma is the only thing that manages to keep viewers interested in this spiralling descent into Hell of a series.
Would a fifth Rambo movie have a stirring plot? Probably not.
Would it have well-crafted characters who are unravelled in the face of violence? Also probably not.
But would it make for some easy mindless entertainment for die-hard Stallone fans? That is much more likely.