Opinion | “Rambo” and the aging movie star

Caden McQueen
Freshman film studies major

The movie star is immortal; they are never really gone, always resurrected time and time again with every appearance on the silver screen. It is the men and women behind these stars, the people themselves rather than the ideas and social perceptions that make them up, that suffer from the most prevalent plague on mankind: age

It’s a somber thing to see the movie star, this ethereal being seemingly impervious to mortal ailments, grow old like the rest of us do. And it is sadder still to see some of them do it so ungracefully.

“A great journey through time. I loved playing this character with every cell in my body. Thank you again… #Rambo,” wrote Sylvester Stallone on his Instagram page, reflecting on his time with the “Rambo” film franchise. When this appeared in my feed, I thought it innocuous, nothing more than a guy musing about the end of a long chapter in his career. But upon seeing the most recent entry in the “Rambo” canon, “Rambo: Last Blood,” this quote takes on a new and – it pains me to say this – more pathetic meaning.

“Last Blood” sees a grizzled old Rambo traipsing around Mexico on a rescue mission to save his surrogate daughter from a duo of nefarious sex-trafficking brothers, ending with her dying in his arms and leaving him with a thirst for revenge. Stallone struggles through the film, clearly no longer capable of recreating the passionate bravado or extreme set-pieces the character was once known for. He hardly does any acting at all, spending most of the film as stoic as a hunk of cement even during its more tender moments. The action scenes also accommodate his newfound lack of ability, as the audience more often sees his enemies disposed of off-screen or by elaborate traps rather than having them face the brunt of Stallone’s rage in personal, gloriously graphic detail like the series was once known for.

And with all this, Stallone is left feeling like a relic of yesteryear. He desperately tries to prove to the world he’s not gone, he’s still the boisterous action hero they know and love, but he can’t seem to do it. That “Thank you again…” from Stallone’s Instagram page no longer feels like a dignified acknowledgment, but rather something more akin to a thank you from an old man that’s just been given one last ride in the Cadillac of his youth. It’s sweet, but kind of pitiful as its recipient knows that those glory days he spent tearing around behind the wheel of that Cadillac way back when are long gone and no amount of slow drives around the block can bring them back; it’s just not the same anymore.

Stallone is one of many stars fighting tooth and nail to keep their bright and illustrious pasts alive, including Bruce Willis and his seemingly endless stream of bad action films year after year; Arnold Schwarzenegger and the recent “Terminator” films; Liam Neeson and this year’s frostbitten action slog “Cold Pursuit.” All these films see aging actors do their best to maintain what they once had rather than letting their careers mature with themselves. This is not to say that older actors can’t carry an action film, but rather to encourage them to have some dignity in what they do.

For example, Robert De Niro is no longer the gun-slinging murderous mafioso of “Godfather Part II” and he knows it, instead choosing to mature into more reserved roles rather than pretend those days never left. Nor is Sigourney Weaver still the tough-as-nails action heroine of the “Alien” films. She too has moved on, not bitter about what was lost and instead embracing what she has. Sylvester Stallone is a very talented, capable actor and I find it admirable that he’s still doing what he loves when he no doubt has enough money from 39 years of “Rambo” to retire whenever he’d like. But honestly, just as no one likes to watch their grandpa struggle up a flight of stairs, no one likes to watch Rambo do the same.