The concept of a new Rambo movie, featuring the world's bloodthirstiest senior citizen, seems much less ridiculous following the unexpected critical and commercial success of 2006's Rocky Balboa. Yet it still feels fairly preposterous. After all, Stallone's big-hearted pugilist was a consummate underdog, so there was something poetically apt about his past-his-prime creator bringing him back against long odds and rampant skepticism. But physical invincibility is pretty much the defining characteristic of Rambo, Stallone's beloved Cold Warrior. So it seems more than a little silly to bring him back to the screen at an age where many of his generational peers are retiring to Florida and whipping out photographs of their grandchildren.
The 61-year-old Stallone returns to the role of a stoic, monosyllabic killing/mumbling machine, now reduced to working as a boatman and snake-wrangler in war-torn Burma. Like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Stallone is an idealist masquerading as a cynic, but when the Burmese Army captures and tortures a battalion of deeply annoying Bible-thumpers from Colorado, Stallone springs into action. With the help of a band of grizzled mercenaries seemingly recruited from a summer-stock production of Apocalypse Now, Stallone goes all Rambo on the bad guys, wracking up a triple-digit body count in the process.
Stallone spends the dreary first 40 minutes of Rambo staring numbly into the distance, mumbling dispassionately, and generally attempting to fade into the scenery. But once the carnage begins, it seldom lets up. Rambo works best as a pure action movie devoted to delivering the cheapest kicks imaginable—and to a much lesser extent, to bringing attention to human-rights violations and genocide in Asia. There's something strangely satisfying about watching a long-in-the-tooth legend of the genre try to outdo young whippersnappers like 300 in the bloodshed-and-mayhem department. Stiffly written, woodenly acted, and indifferently directed, yet full of shit blowing up real good and motherfuckers getting killed, Rambo is fun-bad, then bad-bad, then ultimately fun-bad again, before its abrupt end. A plea for international intervention in Burma cunningly disguised as a B-movie bloodbath, Rambo is paradoxically both a condemnation and celebration of mindless slaughter.