Rambo opens with grisly authentic stock footage of the atrocities in Burma (oddly never referred to by the nation's present-day name of Myanmar). Stallone said he wants this movie to carry a "real" message, so people will become aware of the genocide that plagues Burma, but then he chucks himself into a fake-ass drama smack-dab in the middle of it, allowing him to come across as a hero, "find" himself and kill tons - and I mean tons - of people in the meantime.
From the jungle noise and hollow flutes soundtrack emerges John Rambo (Stallone), thick and beefy, mumbling expletives immediately. Seems he has been hunting snakes to sell and fishing with his bow and arrow, giving handouts to river-riding Buddhist monks. And apparently that's all you need to know. Without any plot development, the stoically silent and now non-mumbling Rambo is quickly dispatched, against his better judgment, to take some religious medical workers upriver to help the villagers who are being ill-treated by Burmese soldiers. En route wicked Burmese pirates confront them, and with a single twitch Rambo goes all "Rambo" on them, shooting everyone in sight, shocking all involved. He delivers the missionaries and leaves, though a feeling of doom prevails.
There's a montage/dream sequence (flashbacks of the first three installments of the franchise) where Rambo struggles with his inner self. He comes to this conclusion: "I don't kill for war, I kill for myself." This being established, he now feels all better. He then gets wind that the missionaries have been captured by soldiers and will be duly tortured. So ... off goes Rambo with a gruff buncha mercenaries. The attempt to convey these thugs as renegade misfits falls flat - they all look like they went to computer school.
The Burmese soldiers, on the other hand, are portrayed as sadistic fiends. They play a form of Russian roulette (reminiscent of The Deer Hunter) wherein captives are forced to run through rice paddies strewn with land mines. Those who don't blow up are shot.
Predictably, as soon as the mercenaries witness the suicide game they hide. Who shows up to exterminate the soldiers with bow and arrow? Yep, you got it. After that, it's Rambo's way or the dead-body-laden highway. With the odds against them (100-10) he still gets the mercenaries all charged up with this Ramboism: "Which would you rather do? Live for nuthin' or die for sumthin'?" The response is a unanimous battle cry to start the slaughter. They go under cover of night and rain while the Burmese soldiers are distracted, watching Thai women do what can only be explained as "the humiliation dance."
This movie is a relentless bloodbath, heavy on action and ammo - huge guns, gargantuan explosions and even a devastating Claymore mine. You got your disembowelments, throat ripping, and a plethora of hacked-off limbs. Heads explode (lots of them), bones shatter, blood spews, guts fly. Needless to say, this is not for the squeamish.
Here's one scene that really bugged me: When what's left of the missionaries and mercenaries are captured, about to be executed, they all start equally crying, whining and sobbing their heads off. Mercenaries crying? C'mon, Sly. Then, as in any stereotypical Rambo/Stallone move, there's the inevitable showdown between the most despicable bad guy and the forlorn good guy, but done with extra gore. I liked it.
Rambo has a full-circle ending that I can take or leave - over-the-top schmaltzy music, all that "finding one's self" and "you can never go home or can you?" crap. This Rambo lacks the glistening pectorals and abs of the other movies ... he still has the headband but he's kinda chunky, keeping his shirt on and looking more world-weary, haggard, and even believable.
This isn't a great movie by any standards, but it at the very least it showed some insight into Rambo's character as well as that of Stallone, who can't seem to toss out the corny with the carnage. Maybe the next one of Sly's written/ directed/ starring projects can be Rocky vs. Rambo - now that would be something to see.