Movie Series Review: Rambo (4)

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.


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?


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.


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 fiancé. “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.


Rambo 4 and Persecution

I remember the first time I saw Rambo 4. (I know this sounds silly, but if you haven’t seen it….go watch it.) I sat in the movie theater with my Husband, brother and sister-in-law. Half-way through this very heavy movie, I realized I had my hands pressed to the sides of my face. I glanced over and saw my sister-in-law sitting exactly the same way. Why? This movie was brutal. Brutal. Stallone didn’t pull many punches when he showed what life in Burma is like. (Actually, if you watch the special features, he tells you that there were many atrocities he couldn’t include due to them being so violent the movie would have been unwatchable.) I left the movie feeling sick, just sick.

MV5BMTI5Mjg1MzM4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTAyNzUzMw@@__V1_SX214_ Why did this movie strike me so hard? I’ve seen some pretty violent movies, read some pretty violent books, studied some pretty violent crimes. Why did this movie make me so sick? Well. If you’ve read my blog at all you know that I’m a Christian – an opinionated one. Rambo 4 is a story about a group of missionaries who go to help Christians in Burma being persecuted for their faith and their ethnicity. People praying and reading are blown up, hacked to pieces, raped, and tortured. The Christians are fed to pigs.

My parents didn’t believe raising kids meant protecting them from the world. They knew that someday we would have to live and interact with that big place and they wanted us prepared. Sheltering us from evil was only going to leave us unprepared to deal with it. They believed we needed a good grasp of history, and, as Christians, we needed to understand our own history. All that to say: I grew up with stories of the martyrs. Yes, the men and women fed to lions. Think about it. You’re standing in a sandy, bloody pit surrounded by screaming, cheering people. They are screaming for your death. They want to watch you get ripped to pieces by a lion. The gates open. (Can you imagine the fear twisting your gut?) A half-starved, half-crazy lion bounds towards you. This isn’t a quick death. This isn’t a merciful death. This is death as a sport. And don’t try to tell me watching an action flick is the same thing. It’s not. Watching warriors save lives, win the day, and do the slo-mo walk away from an explosion is not the same as cheering a lion on as it eats men, women, and children.

But, I live in America. I live in Texas – the Bible belt! I’m a pretty traditional American with American values, living a quiet life where I go to church, take care of my family, and help my neighbors. We have owned our own business, we work hard, and pay taxes. Pretty normal, right? Well, in this middle-class life we tend to lose sight of the suffering around us out in the world. We lose sight in our entitlement. We have 1st world problems. Now….many of us are aware of people starving. Small wars. Big wars. Terrorist attacks and such. But are you aware of how many Christians are being persecuted even today? 200,000 woman and children sold into slavery? A pastor in prison who is American citizens? Christians beaten, raped, murdered because they’re Christians?

I wasn’t aware this still happened in our ‘civilized’ world until I saw Rambo 4. I went home with the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I got when I was a kid reading about Nero’s lanterns: Christians stuffed in baskets and lit on fire. If you watch the extra features on Rambo 4, Stallone talks extensively about the conditions they faced, the actors in the movie faced after making the film, and what is really going on around there. This was the point I became a very strong Stallone fan. I wish more actors would design their movies around things like this. Can you imagine Stallone doing a movie like Rambo 4 on Sex-trafficking? Or the Christians being killed in the Sudan? See….in some ways movies, stories, get peoples’ attention more than a documentary. Why? Cause we love stories. Stories move us. Stories help us relate. Stories help us connect emotionally with what is going on. This is why we read historical-fiction. This is why many of us love fantasy stories – they take the human condition somewhere new and fresh and let us look at it from a different angle. How powerful a tool do we have in stories???

I hope to continue to do some research on the persecution being enacted on Christians today. There is much to learn. But, I believe that with all my war research of late, I’m in a good position to do some studying about modern persecution. And you never know what might happen from there. Studying often leads to writing and to stories.

Be aware. Don’t live with your head stuck in the sand. Don’t hide away. Make yourself understand what others are facing in this world. You may not be able to make a movie, write a book, or even donate money to help them, but you can pray, you can know, you can understand. There are real Christians facing horrible persecution in this world – don’t ignore that fact.

(Just a side note: I love the fact that Rambo 4 ends with the Christian acknowledging Rambo’s use of violence to meet violence. Early on in the movie, Rambo asked them if they were taking guns to the Christians. The missionaries were appalled at such an idea. He said if they don’t take guns they’re not changing anything. If they don’t help them have the power to defend themselves, to stop murder before it happens, they aren’t changing anything. By the end of the movie, the Missionary seems to understand this when he is forced to pick up a rock to defend one of the mercenaries that came to rescue him. Protection of home and family is not the same as murder. God said ‘thou shall not murder’. Murder is the blatant, hate-based planning of taking a specific human life because we are not being worshiped like we think we should be. (Don’t they know I’m god??? How dare they?) God, who said thou shall not murder, also instigated the death penalty for murder. The positive side of not murdering is defending life. Just like the positive side of thou shall not steal is private property – you can’t steal something unless someone owns it. At this point, arming the Christians was the best way to defend life. Armed they could fight back and keep their sons, wives, and daughters safe. Armed they could worship freely without fear of attack. This movie does a great job of showing this without getting preachy….like I am. :-))