Rambo is an unwittingly comedic film about “humanitarian intervention”. Its director, Sylvester Stallone, chose not to set the film in Iraq or Afghanistan because it would be “an insult to the men who are fighting”. Instead Rambo is in Thailand, somewhere near the Burmese border, working on a longboat.
A miserably arrogant monosyllabic loner, his peace is disturbed by Christian missionaries hoping to hire him to transport them on his boat into the jungles of Myanmar to help the oppressed Karen people. He demurs, but is pressed by Sarah, the meekest of the missionaries whose role in the film is largely to cry helplessly while the men protect her. After a sequence of staccato, clichéd exchanges that would draw boos in a school play, he is persuaded to abandon his isolationism and take a risk for the cause.
When the village where the missionaries work is attacked by the Burmese army, and the Christians kidnapped, the wrath of Rambo is awakened. War, Sly intones in a voiceover, is “natural”. It is “in the blood”. Preparing a daring rescue, he sets off with some unusually moronic mercenaries who have been hired by the church, and who are every bit as convincing as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The film signals its “serious” pretensions by including footage of brutal repression in Burma. It is self-consciously “about” a real life situation. It is tempting to say that the morality tale is a thin disguise for war porn. But it is worse than that. The war porn is a thin disguise for an even more barbarous morality tale. The revolting, gruelling violence mainly takes the form of relentless cruelty by the Burmese military against faceless civilians. Until, that is, Rambo’s merciful intervention. Heads explode, bodies disintegrate, flesh is sliced, blood sprays in scarlet rainbows as bad guys – whose histrionics would not be out of place in Wrestlemania – perish.
It is apparent that only by relentlessly terrorising the audience through much of the film is it then possible for Rambo’s inventive barbarism to be experienced as a relief. When Michael, the missionary leader, implausibly rebukes Rambo for taking a human life in the course of saving the whole crew from rape and mutilation, he soon learns the error of his ways. The morality lesson, then: to kill is good; war is natural; and only a reluctant but good-hearted American behemoth can save the world from unconscionable evil through its own talent for mayhem.
Stallone claims that the film shows “the reality of war”. No. It shows a CGI-enhanced hyper-steroidal fantasy about a damaged pituitary case tearing evil-doers to shreds. It doesn’t show us anything about the nature of war.
When we opposed the National Front
An imagined revolt in Port Talbot