Movie Series Review: Rambo (4)

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Rambo 4 is not only my favorite Rambo movie, it’s my favorite movie all together. Why? Lots of reasons. 🙂

Despite the overall lack of cheese in First Blood, and even in First Blood II, Rambo has become synonymous with the epitome of cheesy movies. I’m not immune to this idea, or I wasn’t when I went to see Rambo (4) in the theater with my husband, my brother, and my sister-in-law. I looked forward to this movie and watched a fair amount of previews for it. Settling in, I readied myself for a fun evening.

Within the first oh, three seconds, any thoughts of cheese were dispelled. Everyone, myself included, was stunned. At one point, I glanced at my extra sister to see how she reacted to the film. Both her hands were pressed to the sides of her face in shock. Funny, I was doing the same thing.

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I left the movie sick to my stomach.

This was not a cheesy action flick. This was not the kind of movie, like Die Hard, that you left jazzed up. This is a Rambo movie, and so like the other Rambo movies, (excluding Rambo III) it left you feeling haunted, broken, beaten down. At the time, I told my husband I hated it.

We went and saw it again after talking about it for Valentine’s. Yes, my pick. See, I love warrior movies, and after getting over the initial shock of the violence and story, I realized this was a great movie. Walking into the theater for the second go around, it appalled and shocked me that so many little kids where there. I expected a lot of guys and a few gals who didn’t have dates, but I didn’t expect so many kids. Everyone, except my husband and I, was laughing and joking around. We weren’t. We knew what trials we were about to endure watching this film again. The previews came on. Everyone continued to laugh and joke like they were about to enjoy Terminator. The movie opens. The theater went silent in under three seconds. Parents quickly started removing their children. Why?

This movie is violent.

It is violent on a visceral level.

It’s violent on a level that still shocks me even after I’ve seen it multiple times.

Why is the violence so shocking?

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Two reasons: 1) Stallone—who wrote and directed the film—wanted it that way. He needed the violence to tell the story. 2) The violence is enacted on Christians.

See, about the time Stallone made this movie, Burma—you know, where Adoniram Judson went—was in the middle of genocide. The world sat silent about the horrors going on just like they sit silent about the sex trafficking, and the Christians persecuted by Muslims all over the Middle East and Africa. The Burmese government was murdering Christians. Watching this movie, Stallone makes it very clear from the beginning that the people under attack are Christians. He leaves no doubt in your mind that this is what is happening. Knowing my history, the history of the church, and the martyrdom faced by so many of my fellow believers made this movie hard to watch.

Stallone specifically said he left the movie violent so that we could see and know what was happening. We need to know, not be sheltered. And the sad part? This was the toned-down version. What was really happening to those people was the much much worse.

So, Rambo (4) takes place twenty years after Rambo III. Rambo is now in his early sixties. The Vietnam War has been over for decades and Rambo has settled in Thailand along the Burmese boarder. He never went home. At this point, he is filled with bitterness. He cares about no one and nothing. And why should he? At every point, the people who should be backing him have betrayed him. They’ve made it clear he’s expendable, and that what he is is wrong even while they use him like a tool. (Sound familiar to what every man in our day and age is facing?) Rambo has failed to “Come full circle” and accept that being a warrior is part of who he is, not just what he was made.

A group of missionaries asks him to take them to Burma. He refuses knowing Burma is a dangerous war zone. Sarah, one of the missionaries, reaches out to him in friendship and convinces him to take them up river. Once there, the missionaries are captured by Burmese soldiers and tortured. Their sending church hires a group of mercenaries to free them. Rambo takes these mercenaries up river to the same spot he left the missionaries. They refuse his offer of help, but Rambo follows anyway. By the end of the movie, only two out of the six missionaries survive and only three out of the five mercenaries. But, in the end, Rambo comes full circle and the story closes with him coming home.

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There are three reasons I love this film:

1) Justification of Violence: Violence is justified in two ways in this film. First, it’s used to tell the story, not to glorify itself. It’s not wasted, but used to create the necessary horror of the situation. The violence is visceral, but not indulgent. There is a time and place for violent stories. Second, Rambo doesn’t shy away from the proper place of self-defense and the defense of the helpless. It combats head on the notion that guns cause violence. Rambo asks the missionaries if they’re bringing any guns with them. They are shocked by the idea. Rambo tells them that if they aren’t bringing in guns, they’re changing nothing. One of the missionaries chews Rambo out for killing some pirates even though the pirates wanted to rape his fiancĂ©. “Nothing justifies killing,” is his comment. By the end of the movie, that same missionary kills to defend the life of a mercenary who had sacrificed everything for him. He realized that killing can be justified. The Bible doesn’t say Thou Shall not Kill, it says thou shall not murder. Murder is wrong. Not killing. Killing to save a life, to defend a life, is not wrong. This movie makes a strong case for the idea that there are things worth fighting for.

2) Full Circle: Rambo realizes he was made for defending, and defending with violence if necessary. He is a warrior. He has all the mental and physical fortitude needed to make him an effective killing machine. Accept it. But what does he do with that? As an old man he finally realizes, “live for nothing, or die for something.” It’s time to sacrifice his life for those weaker than himself and in need. It’s time to take up his bow and defend life from those who would violently take it from the defenseless. Interesting note, Schoolboy, one of the mercenaries, seems to have a grasp on this concept at a much younger age than Rambo. Sarah challenges Rambo to sacrifice his life. Rambo takes up his .50 cal machine gun to do just that. Only after he gives himself, uses what he is for others, can he make peace with himself and go home. I think this is a huge way our overly feminine society hurts men. We don’t let them be who they are and direct them to use that strength for others. We drug them and tell them to be quiet. We don’t like manly men. We don’t like warriors. But, we need them. We need them as computer programmers, teachers, and pastors. We need men who know who they are, what they can do, and then to do it for the sake of others. Rambo is an exaggerated story that teaches this point.

3) The main thing I love about this movie is the way Stallone used Rambo to bring to light what was happening to Christians in other countries. It’s easy for us to think persecution is in the past. We believe we’re somehow more evolved and enlightened than the Romans. We think persecution was something faced by Christians during the Inquisition. We don’t believe it’s something Christians face today. But it is. Christians face as much or more persecution today than the past. I’m so very thankful God uses a man like Stallone, whose personal beliefs I’m unsure of, to showcase what was happening. I’m thankful there are men who are man enough to make this violent film. This world is a violent place. There are wars, and rumors of war. We can’t escape that. We can’t somehow, by just loving everyone enough, escape the violence. Sometimes Violence must be met with violence. A gun, rock, or stick must be picked up and used to protect the young, the weak, and the innocence from them that would murder.

I’m thankful for warriors.

And I’m thankful for spiritual warriors. I’m thankful for saints, who day in and day out, look to Christ, because they are dependent. I’m thankful for men who faithfully lead their families, lead in their churches by sacrificing everything that they are or could have: fun, more money, more respect, more prestige. They sacrifice the world for a kingdom not of this earth. They stand shoulder to shoulder and I’m grateful to stand with them.

If the Lord ever blesses me with a son, I want to raise him to understand his strength, not view it as distasteful. I want him to harness it, and hone it like a weapon, not try to batter it down. I want him to be like Schoolboy and come full circle at an earlier age, not like Rambo who didn’t accept who he was until he was an old man. This is going to make me counter culture. We live in a day and age that tells boys to be like girls. It tells girls to be like boys. It disrespects everything that God designed. Women are told to be fierce but not how. Boys are told to be in touch with their feelings, but not how to respect their ability to box things up in a way that women can’t and shouldn’t.

I’m thankful for the Rambo series, probably in a way the writers never expected, because it is the tale of a broken man, lost and alone, who finally comes to terms with who he is, is given the opportunity to use that to help others, and thus saves himself by losing himself.

If you haven’t seen the Rambo series, I highly recommend watching it.

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