I am yet to see the full version of Rambo’s one-man war against the tatmadaw. I have, however, read a great number of reviews of the latest (and last?) in John Rambo’s macho, decades-long effort to dispatch his enemies.

In this post I have provided extracts from a range of these reviews of the film. I hope readers find them useful and interesting. Unsurprisingly, there is a huge diversity of views about Rambo and his blood-soaked mission to Burma.

Like other Hollywood films, “Rambo” has a tradition and a global strategy. That is, the message it carries is less about Burma and more about the United States. There is almost no plot and no political intrigue, only a band of butchers, and wannabe saviors (from the West, of course). What “Rambo” really does is reveal the ideas that serve to bring Western power and rationality to realization; think Edward Said’s “Orientalism,” a favorite concept of postcolonial and literary critics.

We should not feel content with “Rambo” just because it shows the sick side of the Burmese junta (which has no good side anyway). We cannot ignore the film’s perpetuation of the ideas that justify the US’s domination and oppression in many parts of the world.

– Sai Soe Win Latt, “Rambo: Another Victory for the West and a Defeat for Burma”, The Irrawaddy, 1 February 2008.

After Rambo is convinced to take a group of naive, demanding missionaries up river from Thailand, they happen upon a cabal of Burmese pirates intent on raping the woman in the group and beheading the rest of the lot. Rambo wastes the bad guys and saves everybody’s life. In return, the lead missionary lectures Rambo that it’s never, ever right to take a human life and says he’s going to report the incident to get Rambo in trouble. You’d think he worked for the U.N.

After the missionaries learn they can’t outrun the junta and will one by one be fed to wild pigs, mercenaries are hired to be taken by Rambo to rescue the church folk. Needless to say, after witnessing the depravity of the junta the mercenaries are ready to tuck tail and head home. You’d think they wore blue helmets.

– Bridget Johnson, “U.N. could take lessons from Rambo”, Seattle Post Intelligencer, 29 Jnuary 2008.

I’ll be straight up here, “Rambo” is going to piss a lot of people off. Is it the gratuitous violence? Perhaps. Maybe the shear amount of blown up, severed or disintegrated body parts? Potentially. Or possibly the film’s underlying theme of American bad-assery that acts as the fuel to Sly Stone’s alpha male epic. Whatever it is, the audience sure as hell loved it, myself included, though I walked out of the theater questioning why…

…This stark contrast between good and evil is essentially the basis of “Rambo.” When the violent, angry Burmese rapists kidnap the group of American Christians, you know the bad guys are going to get it. By the end of the film, amidst one of the most absurdly violent scenes of gunplay in film history, the Christians turn violent and exact revenge along with Sly and the rest of his revenge-seeking mercenaries. This scene, inching further into an act, lasts about fifteen minutes and is filled with more blown-up, brown-skinned enemies than anything I have ever witnessed. Then again, I have yet to play the Army-endorsed Xbox 360 game, “America’s Army.”

– Zach Bourque, “What would Rambo do?”, Los Angeles Loyolan, 31 January 2008.

The plot itself does nothing to save the movie. It revolves around a na├пve and ill-prepared missionary group which manages to talk Rambo into leading them up water from Thailand to Burma, even though it goes against his better judgment. This comes about from some of the most unconvincing acting this side of the last Rob Schneider movie. The lead female and male missionaries (Julie Benz and Paul Schulze) put on a “Showgirls” quality acting display.

– Benji Tunnel, “Rambo not only inept, but irrelevant”, The Joplin Globe, 31 January 2008.

“Live for nothing or die for something,” says Sylvester Stallone midway through this film. He lives by his word. Not that he has not done much, far from it, for a man who has achieved cult status across the world. Now on the wrong side of 60, he continues to play by his rules. So he still takes on guns with arrows! And comes out a winner!

Of course, he re-invents his popular avatar a wee bit, gives it a contemporary touch by talking of the wrongs in Burma. But that is mere window-dressing. At heart, and in action, he remains very much the Rambo the masses saw and first admired many summers ago. The fierce expression, the rippling muscles, the brooding persona are all there: the ruggedness of his demeanour complemented by a carefully casual attire.

– Ziya Us Salam, “Some Rambo, some mumbo-jumbo”, The Hindu, 27 January 2008.

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?

– A.O. Scott, “Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Jungle”, The New York Times, 25 January 2008.

A word of caution: Rambo is not for the squeamish. The first film in the series had a mere 0.72 kills per minute; the latest flaunts a staggering 2.59, so you can rest assured you’re in for a visceral slaughterfest.

For better or worse, the audience is continually caught between a juxtaposition of extremes – horror at the brutal massacre of Burmese villagers, but the pity and sentiment is replaced with an insatiable craving for more killing and explosions the moment Stallone dons a heavy machine gun…

…It’s easy to see that some people might find the overwhelming violence more nauseating than entertaining. Clearly, Stallone intended it this way. The eye-opening portrayal of life in the Burmese jungle is realistic in the sense that one realizes just how much better off it is living in a part of the world that isn’t engulfed in violence.

Although its premise isn’t original, and its violence makes Saving Private Ryan look like a walk in the park, Rambo is a powerful and entertaining film that’s well worth your time and money, which is more than can be said for most films these days.

– Michael Gregoris, “Rambo cuts, rips, and slashes its way to the top”, The Gazette, 2 February.

But the Rambo we got to know during the Cold War era — when the world seemed arrayed in black hat/white hat relief — is nowhere in sight. This muttering boatman seems to have lost his old-time heroism. No longer is Rambo killing for a cause, but for kicks. And his portentous blather, even by “Rambo” standards, becomes unintentionally hilarious…

…Equally laughable is the movie’s crocodile-teared agenda to make us aware of the misery in that country (with documentary images, at the beginning, of soldiers brutalizing the citizenry), but also to show us how awesome Burmese bodies look in computer-generated imagery as their heads and limbs somersault through the air. Instead of giving us that gung-ho clarity of righting wrongs in one of the world’s most despotic corners, we just feel as though we got sold down the river.

– Desson Thomas, “A ‘Rambo’ without a cause?”, The Washington Post, 25 January 2008.

It doesn’t seem possible that an all-American war machine like John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) could have spent the years since 9/11 frittering away his time in the swamps of northern Thailand, wasting his predatory skills on cobras and fish…

…This “Rambo” redux recognizes that something subtler than the “do-we-get-to-win-this-time” clamor of its predecessors is needed here, and, for a while, the layered moodiness applied by Stallone as director and actor works in his movie’s favor.

But Stallone’s still too much of a showman to resist pushing the audience’s buttons. Thus he builds up the Burmese army’s wanton butchery to such sadistic levels that by the time Rambo’s ready to meet the enemy head-on, we’re stoked to see them as savagely mutilated as their victims.

– Gene Seymour, “Rambo”, Kansas City Star, 24 January 2008.

“Rambo” isn’t dull. It is, however, often murkily directed, a real shortcoming in an action movie. In the big rescue-the-prisoners sequence, it’s very hard to keep track of who is doing what to whom where. There’s a silly flashback montage in black-and-white (hey, there’s Richard Crenna!) for filmgoers who’ve missed the previous three Rambo movies. And the violence level keeps ratcheting up, to near-sickening effect: limb removal, decapitation, disembowelment. Much of “Rambo” could be a recruitment video for abattoir work. The idea of anyone under, say, 16 seeing this movie is insane.

None of this is beyond what you’d expect – or fear – from a Rambo movie. What is inexcusable is the moral self-congratulation the movie trades on, attaching itself to the plight of the Burmese people. Or has Stallone been holding out on us all these years, and John Rambo is secretly a member of Amnesty International?

– Mark Feeney, “Rambo’s back and there will be blood”, The Boston Globe, 25 January 2008.

According to Ko Nay Rein this Rambo movie is unlike the previous ones. It is not just a pointless, violent affair. This time, Rambo is there with a mission; to rescue a broken but real paradise…

…Rambo has at least given a rescue plan for Burma good thought, and that is much more than the United Nations Security Council has so far done.

For sure, when peaceful prayers are not being answered, Burmese people will begin looking for other options.

– May Ng, “To rescue a broken paradise, Rambo beats the UNSC anytime”, Mizzima News, 28 January 2008.