Monday, January 28, 2008

Rambo

OK, I had some serious problems with this movie. I am far from a feminist but this movie seriously hurt my single X chromosome. It also hurt my high school English Lit background on many levels.

First, I consider Rambo to be a very interesting character. Especially in David Morrell's book First Blood. Rambo is kind of a modern day Frankenstein, he is a monster that the Army has created out of the pieces of a man. Eventually the Army looses control and his father/creator Col. Trautman must venture to the cold north to destroy him. I think that the story, whether intentional or not, raised some very good questions about the training of soldiers and how to handle their reintroduction into society. I enjoyed the first movie although I hate that they changed the ending so that Trautman did not kill Rambo. I thought there were many interesting things that could be done with the Rambo character. None of them were done in this movie.

There was really no reason for this movie to have any violence at all actually. I really enjoyed the first part of the last Rocky movie and was disappointed when they had him fight. It was a better movie with just Rocky walking around Philly being old. There could have been a good movie here about Rambo coping with getting older and the demons from his past. This is not that movie.

I am going to take the Rambo movie seriously here and I know many people will object to that. People will say that the Rambo films are not meant to be taken seriously, that they are just fun action movies. I completely disagree. Every Rambo film has attempted to make some kind of point about the country we live in and the things we do. The first film raised real questions about military training, and psychological treatment for veterans, questions we still have not found a good answer to. The second movie was an attempt to draw attention to the PoW situation and what our responsibilities were to soldiers left behind. The third, and least subtle, movie was a plea for us to help the Afghani "freedom fighters" (it also raises questions about shooting helicopters down with arrows). The last movie again features a religious group fighting for their lives and freedom in a war torn country. Rambo wants to be taken seriously, and that is what I am going to do.

The script was obviously written by a 12 year old boy in 1956 on his way home from seeing The Searchers. The movie, at its heart, is the stereotypical American captivity narrative that we all learned about in high school English (thank you Mrs. Mortimer). White Christians (trust me they go out of their way to establish this) are kidnapped by dark savages and drug off to the jungle to be....well they never really bother to explain why the raven headed beasts don't just rape and kill them on the spot.

There are a bunch of captured white people but only two are important, the tenderfoot, pacifist doctor and the strong willed but seemingly unskilled blond chick. In the early parts of the film I still had hope for it. The doctor was kind of an useless ass and the girl was the one to convince Rambo to take them upriver when they would not go. I was braced for a Heart of Darkness style trippy boat ride. That's not what I got either. After Rambo drops them off, it quickly turns into a rescue mission.

Rambo here is the Ethan Edwards/Daniel Boone figure except he has neither Boone's cool hat or Ethan's internal conflict. He has a machete and a bow and arrow (thankfully non-explosive). I am not sure whether I am happy that Rambo is Ethan Edwards lite. On one hand some kind of internal conflict and question raising would have been good. On the other hand the only advancement this movie has over The Searchers is that it does not seriously raise the question of whether a white woman should be killed if she is "spoiled" by not white people (the movie The Searchers only kind of asked this question, but the book it was based on certainly asked it).

The pacifist doctor eventually gets to "redeem" himself by abandoning his core values and brutally braining a man with a rock. The woman, who starts strong, becomes weaker and weaker as the movie goes on. When the Christian missionary doctors are tending to the villagers she is shown to be suitable only for bandage wrapping, and staring at wounded people while the men do the work. Later while tenderfoot doc is crushing a man's head during the final battle blondie is cowering beneath a big strong man covering her ears. She shows none of the strong will she had in the earliest scenes. She does not have to give up her pacifist convictions to be strong. There were plenty of wounded soldiers (all men) they could have been bravely tended too under fire.

Rambo wants to be taken seriously but when you do it all comes undone. The movie harkens back to one of the earliest forms of American literature in which the shame of having the home violated is redeemed by the violent, silent male rescuing the woman from the dark savages. The first movie raised questions and was a stronger movie for it. The second movie raised some questions but also preached a bunch and was weaker. The third movie was all preaching and now is a joke. This movie does not even preach clearly. Are we supposed to embrace another religious group in a third world revolutionary struggle? Or are you just pointing out that the situation in Burma is bad?

There was a lot of missed opportunities for a good movie here. We are dealing again with soldiers coming home with mental scars. Many of whom are middle aged this time around. There was a powerful story about an interesting character that could have been told. Instead we get a movie that is like its main character, an old, empty shell jacked up on steroids.

Interesting characterization and plot is thrown away...but if you are interested there is a 30 minute blood orgy.

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