When I heard that Sylvester Stallone’s new “Rambo” flick takes place right here in Thailand, I knew it’d be a must-see. I haven’t laid eyes on the film yet, I’m sad to say, but some early reviews have just rolled in:
Joel Stein, writing in Time, interviews Stallone and opens with this exceptional lede:
Sylvester Stallone has memorized a lot of Procol Harum lyrics, and for the next two minutes I’m going to hear them. Because if you want to know what inspires a man to write a movie in which hundreds of people are blown up and which, by his own estimate, contains only three pages of dialogue between the two main characters, apparently you have to listen to the lyrics of a psychedelic 1968 song called In Held ‘Twas in I: Glimpses of Nirvana. This is the song that made Stallone want to be a writer, which is surprising because while it contains one Zen koan and mentions the Dalai Lama three times, it does not allude to firing a rocket launcher through a helicopter window.
And then there’s this:
Sure, Stallone agreed to do the movie before Rocky Balboa was approved, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t find something to say. Like Procol Harum, Stallone is not afraid of metaphor, of being opaque, of answering some questions with questions and other questions with a hail of bullets. What he wanted to say in the new Rambo came down to one smart speech: “Old men start wars. Young men fight them. And everyone in the middle gets killed. War is natural. Peace is an accident. We’re animals.” Stallone eventually cut all that dialogue out because Rambo is a silent man, and blurting out your thesis is for college papers, not movies.
The guy who created Rocky is a cheery pessimist who believes that despite an ugly world, you can make incredible things happen with great effort. “Rocky represents the optimistic side of life, and Rambo represents purgatory,” he says. The world, Rambo realizes, is perpetually chaotic and dangerous. “If you think people are inherently good, you get rid of the police for 24 hours—see what happens,” Stallone says. “I could start a war in 30 seconds. But some countries spend 100 years trying to find peace. Just like good manners, peace has to be learned.”
I also like A.O. Scott’s story in the NY Times:
“Rambo (2008): Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Jungle”:
When we first encounter him, this weary warrior has retreated from geopolitics, passing the time at a remote river station in the Thai jungle, where he hunts poisonous snakes and dabbles in blacksmithing. Old Rambo seems kind of depressed, to tell the truth, until his wrath is stirred by the viciousness of the Burmese Army.
Burma? But why not Burma? (In this movie, no one calls it Myanmar.) As a precredit montage of actual news clips reminds us, the military government of that nation has been engaged not only in widespread authoritarian abuses but also in a brutal, long-running campaign against the Karen ethnic minority. And it is with the Karen that Rambo, once roused from his weary cynicism, throws in his lot. No longer the bloody avatar of wounded American pride, he seems more inclined toward humanitarian intervention — a one-man N.G.O. with a machete. Will he show up in Darfur next?
The review ends on this surprisingly upbeat note:
Mr. Stallone is smart enough — or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not — to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back.
Other reviews, however, aren’t as kind:
Hollywood Reporter/Reuters: “Rambo should have left sleeping dogs of war lie”
SF Chronicle: “‘Rambo’ – There will be blood. And rippled muscle.”
Kansas City Star: “GRAMPO! At 61, Rambo is in fighting form, but does America still care?”
Have you seen this flick? What do you think?