With Rambo: Last Blood coming up, I thought this would be a good time to do a retrospective on all the Rambo movies up until now. So sit back and see your favorite mentally damaged action hero for kids in action!
First Blood (1982)
Without a doubt the best of all the movies but a genuine classic in its own right. Stallone is not a superhero in this one, he’s a damaged man who has been pushed a bit too far. But he is NOT the hero. His rampage causes a mess of damage in a small town which is very symbolic of Vietnam veterans lashing back at the country that spit on them due to politicians using the war (or end of it) for their own gain.
There was no doubt that the troops got a raw deal on that one and the “support the troops” mantra is still strong today. Even lefties who hate the troops won’t actually pull the crap they did back in the day if they’re smart. The backlash later on was intense and movies like First Blood helped shine a spot light on that.
Those who think Stallone is simply a block of wood acting-wise need look no further than First Blood. His final breakdown is heartbreaking. Unlike the wind-up action hero Rambo would become, he is not a stoic soldier issuing one-liners here. He’s saddened by finding out about the loss of his last friend. He actually speaks in a semi-jovial way about him in the beginning only to get the gut punch that the strongest guy he knew was eaten alive by cancer. He’s angry when told he can’t just stop and have something to eat by Brian Dennehy’s sheriff. He’s frightened when his flashbacks start. He’s merciful and ruthless all in the same scene.
Richard Crenna is superb as Trautman, Rambo’s CO during the war. He watches over him like a father and has some good moments with Dennehy as they ruminate over the tragedy that happened with the assumption that Rambo was dead.
Dennehy also isn’t a one-note villain. You can somewhat empathize as what he assumes is just a drifter turns into a situation that gets completely out of his control. He has a dead friend and a Captain Ahab like obsession that gets the better of him.
But Rambo’s final breakdown at the end when the last several years crash over him is just heart rending. Stallone said he got a lot of thanks from vets who finally felt like someone understood what they might’ve been going through. Rambo wasn’t a psychopath, he was a victim and a sympathetic one at that. Stallone knocked it out of the park.
If you haven’t seen this one, see it. It is a true classic in every sense of the word.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Just like the unwieldy title, this was about as forced a sequel as you could get. The first movie was unexpectedly a big hit and so a sequel must be made and a franchise is now born. Problem was they forgot what made First Blood so good. It wasn’t the action, though great as it was. It was the character and story. Rambo never actually killed anyone in First Blood. While there was an accidental death, he still showed restraint, a cry for help in its own way. (First Blood is so damn layered, can you tell how much I liked it?)
Part II however is just slightly a cut above your average Chuck Norris film. Better budget but that’s about it. While there’s some interesting ideas of finding POW’s that need to be rescued, it doesn’t do much with it. I especially love the scene where one of the POW’s asks what year it is and the look on his face when he realizes how much time has passed is really good. But then back to the shooting and ‘splosions.
The message that you can’t trust the government works for me though. After they leave him, you just are ready for him to gear up and take everyone everywhere out. Once he gets done with those stinking commies, he gives the US a the middle finger by shooting up their… computers.
I don’t want to sound like I hate it. As a brainless action movie, it’s a good one. As a follow up to one of the top movies ever? Not so much.
Rambo (Cartoon Series 1986)
Yeah, this happened. This mentally damaged Vietnam vet became a fighter for freedom and hero to kids. If you followed up the first movie with this cartoon, you’d probably be pretty damn confused. It was typical 80’s action dreck. He had lots of one-liners, no issues with fighting and nothing about the trauma that nearly destroyed his life. I mean even movies made him at least a little sad looking, he seemed to be enjoying the shit out blowing things up.
Maybe because no one ever died. Who knows. Here’s a taste, maybe you can explain it. Cocaine is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Seriously. Robocop got himself a cartoon too. R-Rated splatter fests became kid heroes. Generation X was the best.
Rambo III (1988)
I actually enjoy this one but I can’t defend it. Except that people think it’s where Rambo helps the Taliban. That’s not entirely accurate. Besides, James Bond was doing the same thing that year in The Living Daylights and no one keeps giving HIM shit. Let’s lay off that stuff, world politics are murky and hindsight is always 20/20.
That doesn’t excuse this dumbed down action schlock that really isn’t that good in the action department. Rambo can’t get hurt and heals wounds by exploding them. Really, this happened:
Well you gotta hand it to the F/X team on that one. It looks amazing. Later he gets shot in the leg with little ill-effect and then runs a tank head-on into a Russian helicopter gunship. Everything explodes.
Rambo has very little character growth in either of the sequels. He does some stick fighting in this one and you can see he’s fighting the urge to just kill the guy he defeats but that struggle never comes up again.
Trautman gets captured so he goes in to rescue him. Fails on first attempt, kills more people, succeeds, big battle, the end. It’s barely 90 minutes long and feels longer.
Still a guy gets hung and then immediately explodes so at least there’s that.
This one is a bit of head scratcher for me. It’s really not that much more than a dumbed down action movie but it tries to be. It highlights some actual real-world events going on in the former Burma and shows Rambo to be a detached and lonely man, no longer trying to get back into the world but just content to eek out a miserable living in Thailand catching snakes, pretty much dead to the world.
A group of peaceniks from a church group come to try to help some of the natives in the war torn country and need Rambo to ferry them up from Thailand. He dismisses them as naive (which they were) but is swayed by the sincerity of Julie Benz’s pleas that how meaningful it is to help without weapons.
Of course things go bad and Rambo decides to go in to rescue them. This time he isn’t a one man super army, he joins a group of mercs sent in after the group. He of course saves the day and some of the group, the ones who had a cast credit.
The movie does not shy away from the horrors of war and there is some disturbing moments. In the end though, Rambo does a ridiculous amount of shooting and exploding things which makes it difficult to take the tone seriously that Stallone seemed to be shooting for. It’s not campy and is mostly successful but does have issues.
Also this is the time that CGI blood splatters were a new thing but at its most terrible:
Rambo at least has a bit of an arc and finally seems to have an upbeat ending, with him coming home for the first time in 30 years.
So that gets us to the finale, Rambo: Last Blood. Overall this is a very mixed bag. All are entertaining in their own way but the bar was set so high in the first movie, the rest feel like mediocrity at best. It’s a real shame that nothing really great was made out of this character but it’s also a testament to how good First Blood was that this is still a somewhat relevant franchise 37 years later.