DVD Release Date:  May 27, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  January 25, 2008
Rating:  R (for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  93 min.
Director:  Sylvester Stallone
Actors:  Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Jake LaBotz, Ken Howard

Many viewers of a certain age—my age (37), to be exact—grew up watching 1980s action movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Some may, as they’ve aged, still harbor fond memories of these early movie experiences. For others, however, embarrassment has set in as they’ve grown older. The humorous one-liners delivered by the various action stars have lost whatever impact they once had, and the overall weakness of many of these films (there are some exceptions, such as the Terminator and Alien films, which have held up remarkably well) are glaring to wiser eyes. Worst of all is the excessive violence of these films, with nameless victims piled up and quickly forgotten, if they ever registered to begin with.

For Christians, who believe that God’s image is in all men, such mass destruction of human life is difficult to dismiss or contextualize as a form of entertainment, all the more so because our spiritual brothers and sisters have been, and are being, persecuted around the globe, and we all are called to suffer to some degree. As the Apostle Paul puts it, we are “persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4: 8-11).

The new film Rambo, directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone, presents an interesting case study on the idea of suffering, but that’s as far as the interest in this film goes. Following his successful revival of the Rocky franchise last year with the generally well received Rocky Balboa, Stallone has re-launched the series about his second most famous persona—John Rambo, a troubled Vietnam vet who has a hard time overcoming his killer instincts.

Introduced in the 1982 film First Blood, today’s Rambo lives in Thailand, hunting his own food and running a river boat. A loner, he rejects a group of medical missionaries who want to hire him to take them into war-torn Burma—part of the church’s pan-Asian ministry. The cruelty of the Burmese warlords includes machine-gunning villagers and sending prisoners into mine-filled rivers. If the prisoners make it across the river without stepping on a mine, they’re shot dead.

“We believe all lives are special,” the missionaries tell Rambo, but decades of war have soured Rambo on the idea that anyone is considered special. He tells them that instead of hoping in what might be, the Christian group needs to accept “what is.” Undertaking the journey will only endanger the missionaries. But Rambo reconsiders after Sarah (Julie Benz) challenges him. “Trying to save a life isn’t wasting your life,” she says. The missionaries arrive and are shown leading a Bible study, but soon the warlords overtake the village. Alone again in Thailand after delivering the missionaries to their destination, Rambo is called upon by the pastor (Ken Howard) of the missionaries’ church to join a group of mercenaries in freeing the captives.

Still struggling with the killing he engaged in decades earlier, Rambo sees a better motive in this mission. But kill he must, and kill he does, over and over again. The final third of the movie is an extended battle and prison break, with little dialogue. It’s drawn out and, frankly, boring, unless you’ve never seen a movie like this.

But why would you want to? Despite its humanitarian story, the new Rambo is an orgy of violence and death. That its villains are inhuman tyrants who, for their own entertainment, send their prisoners to their deaths, is no reason to excuse the excessive carnage in this film. Rambo is an ugly exercise that toys with a Christian notion of suffering and sacrifice only so that it can deliver the extended gun battles, explosions and blood-spurting requisite for this type of film. In so doing, it betrays the ideals its characters seek to uphold.

Rambo could have gone much deeper into questions about Christian suffering and personal redemption, but it keeps those issues on the surface. It’s less interested in preserving the lives of its missionary protagonists than it is with taking the lives of their tormentors. The film does not reinvigorate the Rambo franchise—as Batman Begins and Casino Royale did for the Batman and James Bond films—nor does it offer any compelling reason to continue the series. Let’s hope this is the last of the First Blood series of films.

Questions? Concerns? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@earthlink.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; lots of profanity, including liberal use of the “f”-word; discussion of cutting out tongues and eating intestines.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Some smoking and drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Brief image of a naked backside; naked children and upper-waist nudity of villagers being attacked; naked corpses.
  • Violence:  Rambo hunts fish with a crossbow; prisoners are sent into a river littered with mines on the riverbed; mines detonate and blood gushes upward; numerous people are machine-gunned; limbs are blown off; people are burned to death; a decapitated head is shown on a stake; animals chew on dead bodies; men abuse female dancers; men are stabbed; a man is suffocated, as blood runs through the killer’s fingers; massive explosion in the jungle; a man is slashed across his stomach and blood spills out.
  • Religion:  Christian missionaries lead a Bible study among the Burmese; Sarah gives Rambo a cross; a pastor persuades Rambo to join the hunt for the captive missionaries.