(Or John Rambo, depending on what your opening credits tell you. I prefer this title, as it seperates itself from the previous work and throws the focus on the character as a person and not just some iconic title.)
This is the Rambo for a modern time, written with the sort of insight lost amongst the painful jingoism of the 80's, a world where anything could be done, particularly by America. We find John Rambo a broken, old fatalist. Convinced to take a group of missionaries up river from Thaiand to Burma (currently the world's biggest war-torn cesspool of human misery), he unwillingly obliges them because of the idealistic pleas of "Dexter" star Julie Benz, as good here as ever. He doesn't believe in their cause: bringing hope and faith to a war they can do nothing to fight or win. He knows that their efforts are nothing in the face of constant war. Their idealism and desire to change the world meet bleak pragmatism. The dark and septic tone sets the pace for a film that shows us the modern world, a carnival of horrors, as the young and old, man and woman, are meat for the grinder.
Keeping them safe to their destination, Rambo delivers them to where they'll do their good, lambs to the slaughter, to be crushed under the bloody boot of the junta. And so he is saddled with a group of younger mercenaries whom he must deliver to save the missionaries, mirroring his own past militarism, ballsy swagger, and bravado. The young turks are in their own way a sign of the times: soullessly pragmatic and selling their guns to the pastor of the missionary church without even knowing why they're there. Stallone is all granite stares and cold looks. He needs no words and it is the most appropriate portrayal the character could receive. Even more pronounced next to the militaristic charicatures of the mercenaries, the darkness of the characterization is spot-on and just what the dead eighties franchise needed to bring it back to life and reality.
Inevitably the mercenaries must be nursed along and the mayhem begins and Rambo unleashes his demons on the Burmese junta to do something right. Yet again, Rambo uses guile to free prisoners of war and unleashing the most abject revenge possible upon the military.
Stallone again uses well the stylistic touches of Rocky Balboa, another film whose titular character faces up to the demons of the past and whose journey comes full circle, looking back into moments that made the character who they are and revealing about them some internal truth that they cannot escape and have to face in the film's course. And, again, Stallone writes with a terse, wizened beauty, somehow providing fitting closure to the saga, though this movie may not be the end for John Rambo.
The one flaw I can see is in the unnecessary portrayal of the junta commander as a boy-fucking pedophile, as if the many murderous cruelties weren't enough to damn his character. But it's all lost under the tide of blood and gore that is the stock and trade of this film and rightly so. This isn't some fairy tale in which Russians or Vietnamese soldiers are astonishingly brutal monsters just to provide a straw man villain to righteously kill. This is a film set against a violent backdrop ripped from truth. This is the Holocaust or the Rape Of Nanking or any other unimagineably brutal reality. But this is a fantasy set in the catharsis of an imagined revenge for all the wrongs inflicted throughout time.
It is a beautifully crafted work of brutal genius on Stallone's part, written smartly, and acted well to give the full impact that only understanding the horrors of the world can. If you have the stomach for it, it is action incarnate, from the dark score to the unbelievable viscera. I only wish it were longer.