AFTER RAMBO III, the series took an unexpected and extended hiatus that ended up lasting about 20 years.
Stallone moved on to new projects throughout the 1990s, with several major hits like Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Assassins, and Daylight.
In 1997, Sly went back to his dramatic roots, starring in the action-light Copland with an ensemble cast including Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Michael Rappaport, and Robert Patrick, as well as a bunch of veteran character actors. He gained a significant amount of weight for the role, which got a lot of headlines. The movie wasn’t a box office success, and Stallone’s career took a bit of a downturn after that, with a few bright spots here and there.
(As an aside, if you haven’t seen Copland since it came out, do yourself a favor and get a DVD copy of the Director’s Cut. There were a number of elements that were chopped out to trim the run time, and unfortunately for the theatrical release, the cuts created some serious plot holes and bad pacing. It really is a different movie with the material added in—a true gem from the past.)
As the years wore on, there wasn’t much confidence in the idea of an aged Stallone who wasn’t the box office draw he used to be returning to a role that was most known for being super chiseled and shirtless most of the time while running through explosions.
However, in 2006, Stallone revived the character that made him famous with the well-received Rocky Balboa.
In a sense, this marked a comeback for Stallone, and that allowed him to make the fourth Rambo film in 2008—which after two decades also served as sort of a reintroduction of the character to modern audiences. When they saw the red band trailer for the new Rambo movie (above), the buzz began building and the movie was a smash at the box office domestically, and especially in international markets.
Stallone returns as the former Green Beret, POW, and Vietnam veteran John J. Rambo, who is a much worse mental place than when we last found him and in a new, dark stage of his life.
Again, like in the third movie, he has tried to find a harmonious existence by staying away from violence and working as a river boat captain and snake hunter in Southeast Asia, near the Burmese border—but he’s bitter about how his life has turned out and is tortured over the lack of meaning behind all the killing and death in his past.
Unfortunately, Richard Crenna, who played Col. Samuel Trautman, passed away in 2003 and Stallone did not want to recast the part, though Crenna is present in a few excellent flashbacks of Trautman.
The film begins with a group of missionary aid workers hiring Rambo to take them upriver into Burma. After a lot of prodding, Rambo agrees.
On the way, the group is stopped by a gang of river pirates. When they see that she’s woman, the pirates demand Sarah as payment for passage, despite Rambo’s attempts to offer money instead.
River Pirate’s Walther P38
When the situation is just about to erupt, Rambo decides violence is the only option, and draws an M1911A1 pistol and shoots all the pirates with blinding speed, before marching onto the enemy’s boat and killing a wounded pirate with a final round to the head. If you watch the theatrical version, it’s like three shots to the head from different angles—in the Director’s Cut, it’s one shot.
Rambo’s pistol is a slightly customized M1911A1 with an ambidextrous safety and extended slide stop added, as well as a slightly flared mag well attached to the mainspring housing—a sidearm fitting a man who joined the U.S. Army in 1964.
Other than the deleted scene in First Blood, this is the first time we ever see Rambo use or even hold a handgun.
While the mercenaries Rambo later guides in the jungle are well-armed with an array of firearms, the titular character doesn’t even use another gun until the very end of the film, instead opting for his bow and a new knife, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
Browning M2 Aircraft Machine Gun
In an extremely memorable scene that has been burned into action movie history, when the mercenaries and their rescued prisoners are cornered by enemy troops against the riverbank, Rambo gets into position behind an enemy truck with a Browning M2 Aircraft machine gun mounted in the back of it.
After literally beheading the gunner with his knife (yeah, it’s a big knife), Rambo then liquify’s the truck’s driver with a few point-blank range rounds from the .50 caliber machine gun.
He then turns the gun on the enemy soldiers, unleashing a brutal salvo of machine gun fire that cuts down a large number of soldiers and trees, giving the mercenaries a chance to defend themselves.
Rambo’s efforts are bolstered by the Karen rebels, who use his attack as a cue to begin their own assault.
The Browning M2 in the film has a perforated shroud around the barrel (which makes it an Aircraft model) plus an added muzzle brake that looks a bit like the brake on a Barrett M82A1. It’s in place to divert the muzzle flash to the sides, which can be particularly helpful if shooting from behind a shield with your only viewpoint located above the barrel.
According to imfdb.org, the original idea was for Rambo to wield the Browning M2 by hand—sort of like an M60 on a whole bunch of steroids—and Stallone was actually able to carry and fire blanks through the huge 120-pound gun, but they weren’t able to make it look good enough on film. It was just too cumbersome for him to move well.
They then mounted the gun in the back of a truck, but when they test fired it, the recoil ripped the gun right out of the truck bed. The mount was reinforced and bolted directly to the truck’s frame for the actual filming.
FN MAG Machine Gun
During the final battle, after Rambo puts a fresh ammo can on the M2 and gets the gun running again, an Army patrol boat on the river comes in range and begins letting loose with machine gun fire and a stream from a flamethrower.
The gun mounted on the bow turret is an FN MAG, a Belgian-made 7.62mm general purpose machine gun designed in the early 1950s by Fabrique Nationale. it has been used by more than 80 countries and is made under license in several places around the world.
The heavy gun’s ammo challenges the shield on Rambo’s M2, and a bullet fragment ends up wounding him in his left shoulder.
John Rambo’s Compound Bow
Rambo again has his trusty compound bow in this film, though it’s obviously a new one since he left the original in the jungles of Vietnam and the previous one in the deserts of Afghanistan.
In the beginning of the film, we see Rambo bow fishing from his boat using an ML14 Mountaneer Longbow with an attached reel, and is clearly different from the bow he uses later, as we can see from the lack of cam wheels.
This time, instead of a Hoyt, Rambo uses another vintage compound bow, a Martin Cougar II. The bow is extremely bare bones, with only a small arrow rest attached and no sights to speak of. Rambo carries his extra arrows in a quiver on his back the way he did in Rambo 2.
He only uses the bow in one scene, to stop the Burmese soldiers’ barbaric betting game in the rice paddies, killing several soldiers from ranges of about 60 yards.
The Rambo IV Knife
After that, Rambo relies on the knife, or more accurately, the small machete he forges in the river camp before heading out with the mercenaries.
The knife is crude and looks like it could have been hammered out in a jungle blacksmith workshop from a truck spring, which is exactly how Gil Hibben went about creating the prototype for the film, which was even a bit too refined for what Stallone wanted.
The final products isn’t much more than a brutally shaped, sharpened hunk of steel with wrapped paracord for a handle.
Originally, Rambo has the knife from the second movie in his possession (which makes sense since he still had it at the end of Part II). In a deleted scene, he returns to the pirate boat the morning after the confrontation on his way back down river, uses the knife to punch holes in the boat’s fuel drums, and then sets the whole thing on fire, tossing his knife into the flames.
It was meant to show how angry Rambo was with himself for killing again. It was ultimately left out of the theatrical cut, but was included in the Director’s Cut of the film on Blu Ray.
To create a sheath for his new knife, he improvises one by cutting off the bottom of the sheath for the Part II knife so it can fit the machete and that’s what he carries for the rest of the film.
Hibben made a version of the Part III knife for this movie, but it was either never filmed or ended up on the cutting room floor.
Most of the plot of Rambo (2008) feels like Stallone took the plot of Rambo III and made it more realistic and brutal. Even the scene where he hammers out his own knife was borrowed from the third movie, which if you have on Blu Ray, you know there was a deleted scene where Rambo forges his knife at the monastery before heading off to Afghanistan to rescue Trautman.
In this movie, he forges the small machete (which is a much more realistic blade to craft quickly with limited tools) at his fishing camp before setting out with the group of mercenaries to rescue the missionaries. Stallone actually worked through different stages of forging the knife to get the footage, burning his hands a bit during the process.
We first see him use the big blade during the prison rescue scene as he stalks through the rainy camp to find the missionaries. Later, he uses it again to kill the .50 Cal machine gunner and then again at the very end, when he confronts Major Pa Tee Tint, the local army leader, as the battle dies down.
M18A1 Claymore Mine
On the way into the jungle with the mercenaries, the group passes an old, gigantic undetonated bomb stuck in the ground. Their guide tells them it is a British Tall Boy bomb that was dropped during WWII. There are a couple problems with this.
Based on the shape of the bomb, it looks to be the larger “Grand Slam” bomb, which was one of the first bunker buster bombs, sometimes called the Earthquake bomb. It was 26 feet long and weight 10 tons. It was used by the RAF and the U.S. Army Air Force in 1944.
While the explosion depicted, which produces a mushroom cloud, is fairly accurate as the bomb contained 9,135 lbs. of Torpex D1 explosive, which is capable of displacing about 2 million cubic feet of earth.
What is kind of hard to fathom is what the bomb would be doing in Burma. No earthquake bombs of any size were use din the Far East or Pacifi theaters, and the RAF never even deployed the type of plane necessary to carry the Grand Slam bomb in Burma. The U.S. used the Grand Slam bombs, carried by modified B-29s against the Germans in Europe, but not in the Pacific Theater.
The only way the bomb could have ended up there was if a bomber carrying it was damaged, flew off course, and its crew as forced to ditch over the jungle, or it crashed while flying low and shed the bomb some distance from the crash site.
Regardless, in the world of the movie, the giant bomb is there. During their retreat later in the movie, Rambo leads his pursuers toward the bomb, which he then rigs up with an M18A1 Claymore mine he gets from School Boy earlier.
When the bad guys trip the mine, the explosion sets of the old bomb, creating a massive explosion.
MERCENARY TEAM’S GUNS
M4A1 with M203 Grenade Launcher
Reese (Jake La Botz) carries an M4A1 with M203 Grenade Launcher attached and a tan camo paint job. The carbine is topped with an ACOG sight mounted on the carry handle.
According to imfdb.org, this is the exact same gun originally built by Independent Studio Services for Tyrese Gibson to use in Transformers (although the camouflage paint job had worn off during shooting on the earlier film and had to be re-applied for Rambo).
Mossberg 590 Shotgun
Former SAS trooper Lewis (Graham McTavish) is the only member of the mercenary team to carry a shotgun. He totes a customized Mossberg 590 pump action shotgun with a rear stock attached to a Mesa Tactical m4 adapter block and a Mesa Tactical top receiver rail with an EOTech holographic sight mounted on top.
Lewis also carries spare 12 gauge shells in a large bandolier slung across his body.
Norinco Type 56
Later, during the final battle on the riverbank, Lewis picks up a discarded Norinco Type 56 and uses it to support the Karen rebels during their fight against the Burmese army.
Barrett M107CQ .50 BMG Sniper Rifle
School Boy (Matthew Marsden) carries an Barrett M107CQ as the group’s sniper, which is a Close Quarters Combat version of the M82A1M/M82A3.During the night raid during the rainstorm, the gun is equiped with an AN/PEQ-2A mounted on the scope and is seen firing fully suppressed—or, at least, suppressed far more than a supersonic .50 BMG round can be.
The effects of the massive rounds are exaggerated a bit, shown to knock targets six feet backward and off their feet at range, but not very much, as a .50 BMG can do an awesome amount of damage.
DSA SA-58 OSW
Diaz (Reynaldo A. Gallegos) carries a DSA SA-58 OSW, which is a shortened carbine version of the FAL, with a folding stock. The version in the movie has the Type III Metric receiver. Diaz’s gun is topped with an Aimpoint sight.
Jericho 941 RS Compact
Antagonist Maj. Pa Tee Tint (Maung Maung Khin), leader of the local battalion of the Burmese Army carries a Jericho 941 RS compact as his personal sidearm. We only see him use it during the final battle of the film.
The actor, Maung Maung Khin, was a real life Karen resistance fighter who escaped to Thailand, where the movie was filmed.
Myint (Supakorn Kitsuwon), the Karen rebel leader carries a cut down AKMS that we see him use during the final battle.
According to imfdb.org, the custom gun has parts from the Norinco Type 56 and the AKMS. These guns don’t have interchangeable parts, but the gun was massively customized and rebuilt almost from scratch. This is similar to the gun used by Claire Danes in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
All in all, Rambo (2008) is a hell of an action movie that is extremely tight and well paced. You can check out the “Extended Cut” version, which adds a bit of footage and some alternate takes throughout. Though it does provide more information—more story—its not necessarily better.
It dispenses with some of the conventions of the past movies—there’s a rescue, but the fact that Rambo is working with a group of ex-soldiers, even if they do regard his as just the “Boatman,” makes the whole thing feel different.
There’s no stalking scene to speak of—there’s no time really, and Rambo keeps his shirt on the whole time, but the important stuff is there. And if this had been the last installment in the series, that would have suited most fans just fine. But apparently, there is at least one more Rambo tale to tell…