Is the new Rambo an argument for American intervention? Matt Zoller Seitz, who says that he “can’t think of another blockbuster action franchise that has been so unabashedly right wing in its world view,” makes the case:
Cowritten and directed by Stallone, the fourth Rambo movie is a bracingly political picture — as much an argument in movie form as No End In Sight; a pro-interventionist rebuttal to all the 2007 documentaries and dramas about America losing bits of its soul in Iraq. The I-word is never spoken in Rambo, yet in its coded way, the film makes a case for why we are in Iraq and should stay there until the job is done, whenever that may be.
In the comments section below Seitz’s long and intelligent post, the author further notes that Stallone, who co-wrote and directed the film, recently endorsed John McCain, and considers this further evidence that the film is a pro-intervention parable. Overall, it’s a very savvy reading of a very workmanlike film (I focused more on the film’s working- class ethos in my review), but I think Seitz gives the film too much credit when he calls it “an argument in movie form.”
Rambo, as the protypical 80’s action hero, is a macho man’s macho man—a tough-talking, bulked-up, weapon-wielding one-man army. He’s a militarized, ultra-violent version of Superman (same jaw, same over-muscled physique, same one-man-against-the-world ideals). Violence isn’t just his way—it’s his nature. It’s central to the character in the way that, say, bedding beautiful women is inherent to James Bond. You simply can’t separate the two. Moreover, the Rambo films themselves are, essentially, violence-delivery systems. They’re simple, straightforward pictures that exist almost solely to give audiences their violent jollies and let them be on their way.
But to justify that nature and purpose, and to sell it to a movie-going audience who wants to get their fill of bloodletting but also feel fine about it, you need two things: innocent victims and a cause. Because he’s a populist hero, aimed at entertaining the masses, that cause can’t be too complicated. And because he’s an American, that cause is inevitably going to end up aligned with basic American values, meaning freedom, justice, individualism, anti-authoritarianism—ideals that will easily and quickly appeal to a wide swath of the movie-going public. The victims, then, must consist of those whose freedoms are most obviously in danger, making the go-to helpless victims those who’ve been oppressed by violent totalitarians around the world (Communists in the second and third films, sadistic Burmese military warlords in the latest outing).
It’s not so much, I think, that Rambo makes an explicit argument for intervention as that it uses the widely understood morality of intervention (and not even political intervention, per se, so much as the basic rightness of protecting or avenging the innocent) as a pretext for indulging in extreme cinematic violence. Stallone’s personal politics no doubt flavor the film, but I think it’s a mistake to assign much force to the film as argument. Violence is the series’ product, and intervention is the simplest, most broadly appealing way to sell it.