After clawing his way back to the top with the inspirational and high spirited Rocky Balboa, one time box office king Sylvester Stallone has shifted his focus on his other popular yet woefully lacking franchise in Rambo.
The fourth film in the series is set in Burma (formally Myanmar), where the world's longest running civil war is being fought between the Burmese military - who have wilfully exterminated thousands of Buddhist monks and poor Christian farmers - and Karen rebels.
Situated in neighbouring Thailand is our man John J. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) whose morose existence is shattered when he is approached by Christian missionaries who wish to be escorted up river to Burma, where they plan to supply aid and spirituality. Rambo begrudgingly accepts, yet wants nothing more to do with them or their cause.
However when the missionaries are captured by the brutal Burmese military, Rambo awakens from his dark slumber and - along with a group of mercenaries - attempts to rescue them.
Much like Rocky Balboa, Stallone knows this character like the back of his hand and he plays the role rather effectively as a brooding, hulking mass of muscle and limited speech.
As a director Stallone is a deft hand with the action genre, staging his scenes very well while creating a few thrilling action sequences and taking full advantage of his Thailand jungle location. Nostalgia is also something of a specialty for Stallone, who impresses with a nifty little flashback montage (which he does oh so well), and a surprisingly tender conclusion that harkens back to the series' origins.
However restraint is not a strength of his, as the films excessive use of violence regularly drowns its high points in a pool of blood. This is a much more violent and gore infested Rambo film compared to its predecessors, which says something considering the body count of the two previous films, which combined dwarf in comparison to the 230+ deaths shown here. No doubt Stallone is playing catch up to the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the torture porn crowd who have desensitized a generation of cinema viewers.
Simply put, Rambo contains the most brutal depictions of war violence seen in recent memory. There is enough blood flow to sustain a crimson river as limbs are severed, children are impaled, women are raped, and the rest are mowed down with Gatlin guns.
Thus, Rambo is a film recommended for those who can stomach copious amounts of bloodshed. It is not a comfortable film to watch, and maybe that is the point: a film featuring the barbarity of the Burmese military should not be sugar coated.
But there is something morally unjustified with Stallone's insistence in taking an international crisis (usually in the form of a war) and exploiting it for gung-ho entertainment purposes. Perhaps Stallone had something to say, but whatever message existed has been lost in a cloud of gun smoke.