Stallone Sports Aggrandized Violence, Weak Storyline in ‘Rambo’ Revival

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
Average: 4.6 (12 votes) Oscarman rating: 2.5/5CHICAGO – The best quality about the fourth “Rambo” is its “Rambo” authenticity. The worst quality about the fourth “Rambo” is its “Rambo” authenticity.

Unlike the previous three, which consecutively released every three years in the 1980s (“First Blood” in 1982, “Rambo: First Blood Part II” in 1985 and “Rambo III” in 1988), the simply titled “Rambo” exactly two decades later featured some commonalties and also broke some new ground.

Sylvester Stallone in Rambo in 2008
This gun racked up the most deaths for Sylvester Stallone
in “Rambo” in 2008.
Photo credit: IMDb

Sylvester Stallone – who’s now 61 years old, and though he shows it, still looks the buff part – of course starred in all of them as John Rambo. In addition to starring in the films in 1982, 1985 and 1988, Stallone was also a scribe. The films were all directed by other talents (Ted Kotcheff, George Cosmatos, Peter MacDonald, respectively).

This “Rambo,” by the way, was supposed to release before “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, but MGM green-lighted the remake of the better-written Rocky character first and put this “Rambo” on hold.

After taking a 20-year respite, Stallone is back as the larger-than-life David Morrell character in a film in which he stars, writes and for the first time directs. In his own iteration, it wouldn’t be spoiling to learn that the violence is decidedly aggrandized as that’s what you’re there for and that’s what you’d expect. There’s no doubt this time around that Rambo eats his biggest, fattest and most whopping death sandwich yet.

In 2008, Rambo racks up 83 deaths and eclipses his previous record of 78 set in 1988. Each film increasingly features more death: only one Rambo death in 1982, 58 in 1985, 78 in 1988 and now 83 in 2008. The friendly count skyrocketed in 2008 to 113 and eclipsed the previous good-guy death record of 37 in 1988. After taking 30 minutes or more to witness the film’s first death in each of the previous three, the first now comes in at just over the three-minute mark.

Rambo death chart
A Rambo death chart that compares films from 1982, 1985, 1988 and 2008.
Chart credit: John Mueller at the Los Angeles Times as posted at /Film

Staying true to the past, die-hard Rambo fans are treated to yet another haunted loner character.

He’s living in the middle of nowhere with people who don’t seem to mean much to him and passing the time doing Rambo-like things (i.e. fashioning metal while blanketed in a rain-drenched tent).

The concept of human connection doesn’t much appeal to him and only his father briefly crosses his mind when prompted.

Though taking a protective interest in the character Sarah (played by Julie Benz), Rambo exists without libido and clearly only lives to kill. There’s not one sex scene in any of the four Rambo films.

Through flashbacks to previous Rambo films, he’s reminded this time around that violence is all he knows, it’s what he does best and it’s what he’s meant to do (his life mantra is “live for nothing or die for something”). Unfortunately, it feels as if we’re drawn back to the theater to fill Hollywood’s pockets in exchange for bouts of purely gratuitous violence without a strong plotline.

Publicists initially shied away from screening the film to critics at all and weren’t planning to because they thought it wouldn’t be understood and appreciated. This “Rambo” did screen for critics at the last minute, though, without explanation of the previous hesitance. The reluctance must have had to do with the feared critical reaction of bringing back a brand after 20 years with a man who’s obviously aged that and then some.

On camera, though, Stallone is displayed intelligently. He’s still dirty, ripped and rough around all the right edges. This time, he’s shrouded in humility, mystery and even moments of tranquility and peace until the beast is unleashed. The concept is best illustrated while providing safe passage for a mission in the deadly Burma and he’s known to the traveling mercenaries just as “the boatman”.

The serene character within the ferocious character is the film’s most sly writer’s contribution.

Aside from Stallone and the obligatory girl-who-needs-saving role, the rest of the cast is rounded out by relative unknowns. Television actor Paul Schulze has decent camera and line time along with the gritty and merciless television actor Graham McTavish. James Brolin from the acclaimed “No Country For Old Men” was initially attached to play a colonel role (played in each of the three previous films by the late Richard Crenna) but was then written out of the script.

“Rambo” opened on Jan. 25, 2008.

Click here for our full “Rambo” image gallery! editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman


© 2008 Adam Fendelman,

Anonymous's picture

Julie Benz in Rambo which opened January 25, 2008

This Rambo is a fast-paced movie which kept my attention from beginning to end! I happened to see Julie Benz when she appeared on The View. She was interesting to watch and listen to! Ms. Benz reminded everyone that she started out in show business as an ice skater. I believe she hurt herself (or something) and that she figured (female)ice skaters burn out at 18, so she then became an actor, which she then said, “(female) actors burn out at 40)! To which she got a loud rumble from the panel!

But anyway the movie was great. Sly was great. I never get tired of watching him. I saw the last Rocky. It was fantastic too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'s picture


I didn’t know that about Julie Benz. Thanks for the background!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • Michael Shannon and Travis A. Knight, Red Orchid's TURRET

    CHICAGO – When in the presence of a powerful acting force like Michael Shannon, the depth of performance is emotional and passionately essential. He co-leads with Travis A. Knight in Red Orchid Theatre’s World Premiere of Levi Holloway’s “Turret,” just extended to June 22nd at the Chopin Theatre.

  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone Goodman Theatre

    CHICAGO – The late playwright August Wilson left a gift to the world in the form of his “American Century Cycle,” a series of plays each individually set in a decade of the 20th Century, focusing on the black experience. Chicago’s Goodman Theatre presents Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” now through May 19th, 2024 (click here).

Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions