27 February 2008

RAMBO IV - A truly violent exploitation film; the Stallone revival continues in earnest

The iconic and enduring figures of John Rambo and Rocky Balboa are Stallone's contribution to cinema history and though he has reached his 60's, Stallone continues to revive lucrative franchises with arguably the same degree of passion he brought to the films back in the 1970s and early eighties. Many would argue that the only reason Stallone has revived Rocky and now Rambo is because his commercial appeal had plummeted quite catastrophically, thus this is a cynical attempt at clawing back some box office credibility which of course is all very true. The only problem with this cynical motivation is that Rambo is such a fascinating cinematic figure so suddenly the prospect of Rambo IV seemed somewhat welcoming and even gratifying to know that Stallone would return and also direct. When Die Hard 4 was released last summer, most of the fans were vitriolic in their condemnation of the studio's policy of dumbing down on a franchise that was famous for it's gratitious representation of violence and colourful, inventive use of swearing, or bad language, as the critics prefer to say. After 9-11 many had felt that the time was right for Stallone to bring back Rambo but even though the film could have been set within the Middle East or even America, they opt for Burma, a country which has been gripped by a civil war for many years and is referred to as a notorious political 'hotspot' by Stallone in the many similar interviews he has given whilst doing his rounds on the British media. First Blood is still the benchmark Rambo movie, featuring Stallone's best performance and exploring a significant political issue, that of the social prejudices faced by Vietnam Veterans returning from a war which had all but lost favour with mainstream American society. Rambo can be simply interpreted as a metaphor for an aggressive US foreign policy and the fact that Rambo is an expendable killing machine, a product owned by the American military is suggestive of how dehumanisation as a consequence is inevitable. In terms of political ideology, it is interesting to trace the shifting ideological positions within the four films; the first was labelled by many as being somewhat fascist in tone but by the end it is clear that the film states its liberal intentions when Stallone breaks down into a blubbering mess. The second Rambo film, and arguably the most fascinating and most iconic of the franchise, dealt with Reaganite conservative politics by presenting us with a idealistic wish fulfillment narrative scenario in which Rambo single handly defeated the South Vietnamese in a patriotic attempt to heal the trauma of having lost the Vietnam conflict. Though for many the stand out moment comes when Stallone dispatches one of the Vietnamese Soldiers with an arrow that results in his whole body exploding into smithereens. The third film relocated the story of Rambo to the foothills of Afghanistan, and this time Stallone was seen championing the cause of the Afghan people who were up against the terrifying might of the Russian empire. The third film did have the potential to be quite interesting but it seems to nose dive into self parody and ends up mocking up the conventions of the franchise which it didn't have to. Nevertheless, Rambo 3 is one of the few films to have been made by Hollywood that directly dealt with the conflict between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, but it is unfortunate that the film explores the subject matter with a degree of stupidity and laziness. Now we have Rambo 4 and unlike the other 3 films, it is difficult to pin down the political position the film adopts, other than killing, violence and bloodshed is a way of life and inherent within the genes of John Rambo. Stallone has already hinted at the potential of a fifth and final film, and this in no doubt reinforced by the ending which sees Rambo return home to America. Rambo 4 works as an exploitation film and is passable entertainment but more importantly it works because Stallone still believes he is John Rambo.

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