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May be so bad that it’s good
Sylvester Stallone Stars in "Rambo to Hell and Back."
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $32,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

February 26th, 2007: Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has survived many harrowing ordeals in his lifetime and has since withdrawn into a simple and secluded existence in Bangkok, where he spends his time salvaging old PT boats and tanks for scrap metal. Even though he is looking to avoid trouble, trouble has a way of finding him. A group of Christian human rights missionaries, led by Michael Burnett and Sarah Miller, approach Rambo with the desire to rent his boat to travel up the river to Burma. For over fifty years, Burma has been like a war zone. The Karen people of the region, who consist of peasants and farmers, have endured brutally oppressive rule from the murderous Burmese military and have been struggling for survival every single day. This is the time when medical assistance and general support from the Christian missionaries is needed most. After some consideration, and due to insistence from his mentor, former military man Ed Baumgartner, Rambo accepts the offer and takes Michael, Sarah, and the rest of the missionaries up the river. When the missionaries finally arrive at the Karen village, they are ambushed by the sadistic Major Pa Tee Tint and a slew of Burmese army men. A portion of the villagers and missionaries are tortured and viciously murdered, while Tint and his men hold the remainder captive. News soon reaches the minister in charge of the mission and with the help of Ed Baumgartner he employs Rambo to lead a rescue effort. With five, young, and highly diverse mercenaries at his disposal, Rambo has to travel back up the river and liberate the survivors from the clutches of Major Tint in what may be one of his deadliest missions ever.

What to Expect: For years following the release of Rambo III, another sequel in this ultra-popular 1980s action franchise seemed difficult to imagine, largely due to star Sylvester Stallone’s age and waning popularity. Oddly enough, it was the tragic events of September 11th that brought the character of John Rambo back from the brink of extinction. Soon after the terrorist attack on the United States, a rumor spread that Stallone had locked himself up and was writing the screenplay for the next installment in the Rambo franchise. Incidentally, the story was going to be set in Afghanistan with the iconic hero apparently taking on Osama bin Laden and a group of terrorists. Thankfully, those ideas never quite came to fruition, but the fourth installment in the series has been in development ever since then and has gone through several fascinating transformations in terms of the story. In another version, there was a plan to bring Brian Dennehy back to reprise his role of the malicious sheriff from the very first film, only this time, there were thoughts of making him work alongside Rambo as his partner. At one point, Stallone also reportedly considered making Rambo an environmentalist hired by the UN to prevent a terrorist plot on the organization. By the way, the character was supposedly going to be Muslim in that version. The most recent script had Stallone taking a page out of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book circa Commando. The movie was going to be a revenge story that followed Rambo as he searched for the perpetrators responsible for the kidnapping of his daughter. Fortunately for everyone, the current version also appears to be the most sensible and plausible one, which may save Stallone from unwanted laughter during screenings.

Article continues below

Much like with the Rocky franchise, which currently has the Rambo series outscored 6 to 3, the first film was the trendsetter that has never been matched since. In First Blood, Stallone and director Ted Kotcheff created a gripping character study that pitted the John Rambo character against local authorities in an intense and quite realistic battle of survival. All subsequent films have strayed away from the dramatic center of the story and have evolved into all-out action pictures, even less believable than the Rocky sequels. However, Stallone himself has admitted that he is unhappy about the way the character was portrayed in Rambo III and is looking to make John Rambo an intriguing character piece. After the shocking success of Rocky Balboa, which garnered in an impressive $70 million at the box-office and, even more surprisingly, earned praise from critics, I believe that Stallone may still have something to offer. With the star taking a page out of his own book and insisting that the title of the latest Rambo film be changed to John Rambo (a la Rocky Balboa), one can immediately draw many conclusions about the focus of the story, which is likely to revolve around the aging titular character in his twilight years. Stallone returned to Balboa after a 16-year absence and it will be an even more glaring 20-year gap between the Rambo outings by the time John Rambo hits theaters. The biggest problem, however, may be that the Rambo character never became the iconic figure that Rocky did over the years. Rambo is the quintessential action hero of the 80s to be sure, but the figure never became the underdog fan-favorite that the public could rally behind the same way they did with the “Italian Stallion.” Let’s not forget, of course, that at the heart of the Rambo character lies his mental and emotional instability – a trait not frequently associated with movie heroes and one that has been somewhat forgotten after First Blood. It would be very interesting if Stallone were to dive into the subject matter once again. A few years ago, the tense, sparse, and highly underrated William Friedkin flick, The Hunted, explored similar territory. Incidentally, Art Monterastelli, who wrote the screenplay for the flick, worked with Stallone on the current script for John Rambo, which has started shooting just this past weekend.

So what kind of a Rambo can we expect exactly once the movie finally comes out? Throughout the years, the character has lived in a very remote part of the jungle in Thailand and while he has matured, he will still sport the long hair and resemble the action hero that audiences remember. His memories from training and the harrowing experiences he endured during the Vietnam War and afterward have not left him and he continues to suffer quietly as a result. With his spirit somewhat broken and with little desire to return to his former lifestyle, he lives his peaceful and primitive life out in the jungle. The intense physical labor that he has found for himself has kept him busy over the years and has also kept him in an excellent physical condition. Stallone will reportedly be more bulked up for the part than he was in Rocky. Perhaps the pressure of preparing for the role got the best of him because the star was recently caught in Australia while in possession of illegal steroids.

Some of the main themes in the story this time around will stem from Rambo’s relationship with his team of mercenaries. Reportedly, the studio required the addition of some more youthful protagonists to the story, fearing that the appeal of the 60-year old Stallone and his equally old character may not be enough to arouse younger viewers. The contrast between the two generations, Rambo and his young guns, will help juxtapose the mentality of a soldier of the Vietnam War era with the mentality found among soldiers currently serving. According to Stallone, soldiers today are treated less like killing machines and have a much more conscious attitude toward the danger and brutality of war. It’s a theme he is looking to explore a little in the movie and may also find a way to suggest that Rambo’s hands-on approach to battle is superior to the high-tech style of his men.

Stallone has promised that the latest installment in the Rambo franchise will touch upon controversial subject matter revolving around Christianity, atheism, and genocide. He got the idea to have Burma as the setting after he called “Soldier of Fortune” magazine and asked them to name a place where some of the most inhumane atrocities are taking place. The villains in John Rambo will be based on the sadistic leaders of the country, whose perverse actions toward the villagers, which include crucifixions and beheadings, have been well documented. In the movie, John Rambo witnesses some of the horrible treatment that the villagers endure and it rekindles that spark in him. Once again, he becomes swept up in his own deeply-rooted anger and becomes the warrior we have come to know. Stallone has been quick to point out that the character will actually become a Christian warrior of sorts and has compared the movie to the classic The Magnificent Seven.

As for the rest of the movie, the second half is said to be extremely violent and gory and packed with intense action. While some of the brutality carried out by the Burmese soldiers will be difficult to stomach, Stallone promises that it will be true to life in the region. Rambo’s infamous explosive arrows will not make an appearance in the movie, but the character will supposedly still use a bow. The five young guns helping him during the mission will vary greatly in terms of personality, ranging from those willing to follow Rambo unconditionally to those having an antagonistic stance toward him and the mission.


Regardless of whether their attitudes are positive or negative influences on the story, all but one of the five mercenaries will die.


The picture has just started shooting, with the majority of the filming taking place in the gorgeous northern provinces of Thailand. Stallone has a generous $60 million budget to work with, but unsurprisingly, he has had problems finding domestic distributors. Understandably, this sort of a sequel, 20 years after the last entry in the series, will require a lot of faith on everyone’s part. Early pictures of the aged Stallone sporting long hair have not looked good. They represent just one of the many, potentially laughable elements in the movie.

In Conclusion: John Rambo will be problematic for several reasons, the biggest being the hero’s mental and emotional instability, which doesn’t quite make him the hero for all ages. It will be important for Stallone to acknowledge Rambo’s age in the film to connect with viewers on some level, but then again, he already did that in Rocky Balboa. Essentially, the character of John Rambo does not warrant the same sappy treatment that Rocky Balboa received. I feel like Stallone is trying to soften the character up to play with people’s feelings of nostalgia, while he should be making an all-out action picture. At the same time, an all-out action picture about Rambo in today’s world is utterly pointless if it doesn’t bring something familiar and unique to the table. Either way, I feel like Stallone is trying to do with John Rambo what he did with Rocky Balboa and the treatment is wholly inappropriate. Unfortunately, I think that the only solution is not to make a movie about John Rambo at all and leave the character good and buried, as he should be. This resurrection seems even more inappropriate than the Basic Instinct sequel, but that’s what makes it fascinating as well. There is no chance that John Rambo could match the success of Rocky Balboa, but I’m very curious to see what will go down.

Similar Titles: Rocky Balboa, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Driven
January 25th, 2008 (wide)
May 27th, 2008 (DVD)

Lions Gate Films

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone, James Brolin, Kim Dickens, Bruno Campos, Carrie Southworth, Matthew Marsden, Linden Ashby, Paul Schulze, Julie Benz, Ken Howard

Total: 681 vote(s).

Action & Adventure


Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language.

93 min





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