Who knew Sly Stallone could cloak a disturbing allegory for soldiers returning home during Post 9/11 Iraq under the guise of a blood-soaked franchise picture? Rambo, the fourth incarnation of Stallone’s iconic American super-weapon, sets its sights on third world genocide and the conflict in Burma.
The film opens with a brutal slaughtering of innocents by the corrupt Burmese Army, lambs being cut down by cowardly wolves. We get used to the gore fast because Rambo only speaks in such simple, cutting visuals. When naive Christian missionaries come to bordering Thailand and ask recluse Rambo for a ride up river to help the suffering natives who’ve found Jesus, the stage is set for the inevitable scenario: the creation of POW’s, then their bloody and chaotic rescue.
Stallone throws in a fascinating sequence on the boat ride up river, when missionary Sarah (Julie Benz) asks Rambo if he ever wonders about home. Rambo, as is the case throughout the film, stands speechless, hounded by the near three decades of movie violence which has engulfed his world. “Home” has become such an alien aspect to the man a mere mention of it feels like a challenge, much more than the countless Burmese villains he obliterates throughout the film.
Atrocities are met with more atrocities, and even the surviving Christians get into the action, producing the unsettling paradox at the heart of this American exercise in violence: when well meaning righteousness fails, does extreme brutality mend the wounds with blood, or cause more irreparable damage? As in First Blood, the great origin story for Rambo, this latest film blurs the boundaries of such an ontology. It has always seemed Rambo carries the weight of a nation’s malpractice on his shoulders. Now, when faced with this haunting reminder once again, our human killing machine finally decides to go home and face the music. It begs the question, in Rambo 5, will we welcome him with open arms?