Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hear me, believe me and fear me!

My first and only act of theft, at the age of four, was shoplifting the novelization of Rambo III from the local Osco Drug (I was caught immediately and cried many guilty tears). I'm not sure why I so urgently needed the book, or why exactly I idoloized John Rambo at such a young age. I was never much into G.I. Joe or other war toys; I think I valued Rambo as a mythic, larger-than-life figure like other preschool heroes Conan, He-Man and Lion-O. It'd be easy to write off the Rambo series as strictly for kids who are oblivious to the films' politics - at once fascist and extreme libertarian - and how the Teutonic awesomeness of Stallone's monosyllabic god of war serves to silence all debate about Vietnam and its aftermath more nuanced than "They wouldn't let us win!" But while Rambo, the roughest, goriest and loudest entry in the series, is as politically nuanced as a Toby Keith anthem, it shares with its predecessors an earnestness that keeps it from being truly offensive. Whether it's reasonable to describe a movie featuring several dozen exploding heads as "earnest," I'll leave up to you.

Concerned (like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) with the fate of a distinctly '80s icon who has outlived his time, Rambo finds the titular character (Sylvester Stallone) living a solitary existence as a snake wrangler in Thailand. In the two decades since Rambo III, Rambo has become even more pissed-off and withdrawn (his first line is "fuck off"), but after a group of missionaries asks him to take them upriver to Myanmar, he's naturally forced back into action. Stallone has said while promoting Rambo that he hopes the movie will bring attention to the atrocities in Burma, and the graphic documentary footage that opens Rambo makes for a surprisingly sobering reintroduction to the character. At the same time, Myanmar is one of the few morally black-and-white conflicts Stallone could have deposited the character into; he doesn't completely exploit this fact, but Rambo is certainly driven by a nostalgia for the righteous kill. In simplifying a real-life war zone, Stallone's script feels like it was scrawled in red marker by a hyperactive, antisocial thirteen-year-old; bad guys threaten not just to violate an attractive female missionary (Julie Benz) but to "rape her fifty times," and the head baddie warns that "I will feed you your own intestines!" Pop icons can carry powerful political subtext, of course, but when treated this literally it's as effective as Spider-Man crying at ground zero.

Luckily, Stallone's newfound social awareness has also motivated him to reach new levels of absurd, gratuitous blood and guts. In one interview, Stallone explained that Rambo's over-the-top violence was necessary to match the realism of Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down; I don't know if he believes his film is as serious-minded as those (Jonathan Rosenbaum might prefer it to the others), but it's interesting to see how his aim of realism has actually pushed Rambo closer to the grindhouse than its predecessors. With its rough, shaky-cam images of exploding bodies, severed limbs and disfigured corpses, Rambo is less like any war movie I've seen than a straightforward splatter movie. And the increasingly hulking, monolithic Stallone reminds more of an '80s slasher icon than the greased, permed model of Regan-endorsed homoeroticism we've seen before. He's a product, like the rest of Rambo, of an aging action star's id, and the unapologetic bloodlust on display has seemingly liberated Stallone; this is the crudest Rambo movie, but while First Blood is the only one I could call "good" with a straight face, Rambo is by far the most fun.

Another hint at Rambo's appeal to kids can be found in Son of Rambow, Garth Jennings' ode to his own VHS-era youth. In Rambow, set in early-'80s England, a pirated copy of First Blood inspires young Will (Bill Milner) and Lee (Will Poulter) to create their own action epic. Jennings nails the kids' apolitical attraction to the character; for Lee, the movie is simply one he can imitate to win a filmmaking contest, while Will, a small, awkward kid raised in a sheltered religious community, finds in Rambo a figure through which he can vicariously express his repressed pre-adolescent rage. Jennings lovingly recreates this early era of DIY filmmaking, and his nostalgia is infectious. Rambow's story is a bit thin, perhaps, but the heartfelt depiction of the central friendship, and its urging of its young audience to tell (or retell) the stories that matter to them, won me over. So if you have a kid who becomes fascinated with the Rambo cover art in the same way I was with that awesome EMI video box for First Blood Part II, rent them this instead - it's just as fun, with none of the nightmares.


exposicion muebles madrid said...

Very effective material, thanks so much for this post.

muebles en castellon said...

It will not succeed in actual fact, that is what I think.