“Live for nothing – or die for something.”
In this anticipated fourth installment of the Sylvester Stallone franchise, we find John Rambo living in northern Thailand as a trader and barter of local goods. He is approached by a group of Christian missionaries from a church in Colorado, who are bringing relief supplies and medicine across the river border to war-torn Burma. The Karen rebels are deadlocked in a vicious struggle with the militaristic Burmese government, and the civilians are caught in the middle of it. These missionaries, including Michael (Paul Schulze) and Sarah (Julie Benz), request Rambo’s help in crossing the river into Burma.
Rambo reluctantly agrees to ferry the group into Burma at no charge. But soon thereafter, the missionaries are captured by the Burmese army in a brutal village raid. Rambo receives word of this and assembles a team of skilled, battle-hardened mercenaries to bring the missionaries back alive – at all costs.
This is a rare film – an action movie that also brings an important issue to light. Shot mostly on location in Thailand and directed by Stallone himself, the fourth Rambo movie brings us into the middle of a raging third world conflict in graphic, harrowing detail. Although I don’t love Stallone as an actor, I greatly appreciated his willingness to make another wildly entertaining film, while also commenting on a real-world fight in Southeast Asia.
The opening scenes depict real documentary footage of carnage in war-torn Burma before shifting to the opening scene – in which Burmese soldiers force captives to run for their lives in a rice field before executing them by firing squad.
Brace yourself. There’s plenty of gore and guts, enough to put the first three Rambo films to shame.
IMDB.com lists Rambo as having a body count of 236 – that’s 2.6 killings per minute. The MPAA gave it an R rating for “strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language.”
There’s PLENTY of violence in this film, including massive explosions that tear bodies apart, shots through the knees, stomach, and chest, and many other brutalities. Burmese military men execute numerous men, women, and children in village raids, beating the young boys before forcing them to enlist.
We see a wild boar nibbling at the stumps of a dead man’s legs. Rambo shoots three men with a bow and arrow, hitting them in the face, legs, and torso. He shoots a number of Burmese pirates with a pistol en route to dropping the missionaries off.
In one of the less violent (relatively speaking) moments of the movie, we see Rambo go back to the pirates’ boat, pour gasoline on it, and set it ablaze in order to send a message.
Flamethrowers incinerate men in an instant. Rambo slowly and graphically rips out a soldier’s throat. He also shoots a pirate with a high-powered machine gun, decapitating him. Burmese soldiers hack off limbs of innocent villagers and shoot children at close range. One woman is briefly shown having her shirt ripped off as she screams for help. The team of mercenaries sees the remains of a torched village, complete with rotting, drowned bodies. A man steps on a landmine, which nearly shreds his leg to the bone. Rambo himself is hit with a bullet to the shoulder. A man is set on fire; another is graphically killed by a grenade. Rambo kills two men in a Jeep with a high-powered machine gun in gory detail; we see lots of blood and guts on the assault weapon afterwards. A soldier’s legs are literally blown off, while others are mowed down with machine gun fire. A man’s injured leg is poked with a stick while his friends are beaten with rods. A soldier gets into a fight with an unarmed man, which ends in the soldier having his head beaten several times with a rock. A military commander is graphically disemboweled with a machete.
In addition to horrific images of violence that mirrors a real war, there’s quite a bit of language, mostly used by Rambo and his mercenaries. I’d say there were about 30 uses of “f*ck” and “s**t” as well as other minor profanities.
So what good is there in a depiction of such carnage in realistic detail? More importantly, why would you be entertained by such a violent film?
The answer is found in the purpose behind the film – to bring awareness to an often-overlooked third-world conflict. Burma has been in a civil war for years, and people there are hurting. Christians are routinely persecuted, and rarely do they have any way of leaving the country. This movie is shedding light on atrocities that occur every day in Southeast Asia.
I was very impressed by the positive portrayal of the missionaries in their noble efforts to bring healing and compassion to a foreign country. There’s no doubt that Stallone, a devout, practicing Catholic, was deliberately trying to portray Christians in a good way.
However you slice it, this film is a harsh reality check to living life like nothing matters. Rambo is burned-out and hopeless at the beginning of the movie, but begins to realize that he’s a warrior at heart who needs a reason to live. He’s given up on life and changing things in the world, but eventually refuses to let himself be pessimistic.
Obviously because of the intensity of this movie and the strong language, I do NOT recommend it for anyone under the age of 16. But this is a highly entertaining, shocking, and brutal film that needs to be seen. If anything, it could encourage you to keep the Burmese people in your thoughts and prayers.
Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Written by Art Monterastelli & Sylvester Stallone
Based on the character created by David Morrell
Produced by Avi Lerner, John Thompson, and Kevin King Templeton
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Rey Gallegos, Jake La Botz, Paul Schulze, Tim Kang, Maung Maung Khin, and Ken Howard
Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language.