The civil war in Burma has raged for sixty years, with the Christian minority bearing the brunt of the victimisation from the authorities. Living in nearby Thailand, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) puts thoughts of such things to the back of his mind, having seen enough brutality in his lifetime, but something is going to return him to his old ways. That something is a group of Christian missionaries who attempt to persuade him to take them up river into Burma where they can do the work of God in providing succour to the beleaguered vicitms of the war. He reluctantly agrees...
Years after his two most recognisable characters had been stars of hit movies, and some fewer years that they had appeared in resounding flops, Sylvester Stallone settled for trading on past glories by bringing back both Rocky and Rambo. And he must have been gratified to see their comebacks welcomed with decent returns at the box office, especially as they both ran along very similar lines. Just as the boxer in Rocky Balboa has to be coaxed out of retirement to prove that in spite of his advancing years he's still got what it takes, here Rambo does pretty much exactly the same.
Scripted (with Art Monterastelli) and directed by Stallone himself, if anyone understood what audiences wanted from Rambo it was he, and what he offered them was lashings of over the top bloodshed coupled with a tone of sanctimony. The whole film is an excuse for using violence as a means to get your way, and with the mumbling muscleman on the side of the good guys we're allowed to feel that, well, he may have killed more people than the average serial killer many times over, but at least his heart's in the right place and we can be smug in knowing that slaughter can be a force for right.
Or can we? All this revelling in violence is all very well if you're happy to see it as fiction, but when Stallone seems intent on connecting it to an actual conflict then you wonder about his diplomacy skills. The missionaries represent those who would mediate, employing a peaceful approach to solving problems of war, but they are roundly beaten to state to the audience that blowing your enemies away is the only true way of succeeding in this world when push comes to shove. Never mind that this is precisely the kind of thinking that starts wars in the first place, Stallone here comes across as not having thought through his arguments.
But really, it's the action most will want to see without troubling themselves by fretting over the politics, even if it was Stallone who insisted on bringing it up from minute one. Predictably, the missionaries are taken to a village in Burma and subjected to a fierce attack by the army which has them all captured and placed in bamboo cages. A few days later, their preacher appears in Rambo's back yard asking him to help take a group of mercenaries to the area he dropped off the missionaries, and what do you know? He is back where he started, a killing machine - there's even a montage of clips from previous instalments, just as if this was a Rocky film. At least Stallone keeps things brief, and by the finale where Rambo picks off soldiers with a huge gun as if he were playing Space Invaders you can't say he allowed the story to ramble on and get away from him. It's as if the nineties never happened. Music by Brian Tyler.