Had Stallone set his return to the franchise in Iraq or Afghanistan, of course, he'd have been forced to confront the fact that it's America who does most of the "pushing." And even here, in Burma, the bodies of unflatteringly depicted, largely interchangeable people from a foreign country are still the stage upon which these concerns play out. Even so, gone is the hero of Rambo: First Blood Part II, who demanded to know "Do we get to win this time?" and said all he and every other veteran wants is "for our country to love us as much as we love it!" "You didn't kill for your country," this new Rambo tells himself in the theatrical cut of the film. "You killed for yourself." The red, white, and blue overtones of the previous sequels, and even the original film, are gone. All that's left is blood red.
Rambo's other innovation/deviation, and this is key to understanding its approach to war, is the manner in which that blood gets spilled. First Blood, First Blood Part II, and Rambo III all share the traditional pacing and plotting techniques of the modern action film: ups and downs, bursts and lulls, captures and escapes, memorable secondary villains to encounter and defeat, and battles of both words and wits with the Big Bad prior to the final, decisive confrontation.
Like no other action movie I've ever seen (and brother, I've seen plenty), Rambo shoves a grenade in this hallowed structure and blows it to kingdom come. Sure, there are a couple reels of hemming and hawing as the missionaries show up and eventually persuade Rambo to take them upriver into Burma. He has to do a little killing on the way to save them from pirates, but that's the extent of his involvement in any kind of military capacity -- he just drops them off and sails on back, already haunted by his own actions.
But when the pastor of the missionaries' church appears, revealing that the missionaries have gone missing and asking Rambo's help in guiding a team of mercenaries to their last known location, all hesitation ceases. Rambo takes the job, joins the mercenaries, infiltrates the military's base, rescues the few surviving prisoners, flees, and methodically murders every man sent to stop him. That's it. He doesn't get taken prisoner, he doesn't rest up during lulls in the action, he doesn't have to face off against any second-in-command muscle, nothing. It's like taking the job flips a switch. All he does is kill until there's no one left to be killed. Compare this to the pacing of the other three films, or any other action movie that comes readily to mind (just for example, think about Die Hard, or The Terminator, or even the more recent Mad Max: Fury Road), and you'll see just how goddamn weird this is.