Rambo Trilogy

First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Sylvester Stallone (who also co-wrote the simple but effective screenplay) stars as John Rambo, who fought in Vietnam but has little to show for it. His platoon buddies died face down in the muck or came back with cancer from Agent Orange, he’s haunted by the horrors he saw and committed, he can’t keep a job… He’s a drifter, unwelcome, pushed around, arrested for no reason and abused by cops until he JUST. CAN’T. TAKE. IT. ANYMORE. He makes a daring escape from the sheriff’s office, steals a dirt bike, takes the hunt into the woods, dives off a cliff, sows his wounds closed, throws a rock at an helicopter, builds lethal booby traps, crawls through rat-infested caves, hijacks an army truck and drives it through a road block, blows up half a city then throws a tearful tantrum before walking off into end credits and a super cheesy power ballad. A one-man army, more pyrotechnics than dialogue, violence as entertainment… The modern Hollywood action movie is born!

Rambo: First Blood part II (1985, George P. Cosmatos)

It’s pretty crazy that in “First Blood”, Rambo actually kills only one dude, sort of accidentally at that. It was still a pure action flick, but based in relative realism, with elements of psychology and politics backing the mayhem. None of that here! “Part II” isn’t about how some soldiers couldn’t readjust to real life after Nam, it’s about going back and re-fighting the damn war. “Do we get to win this time?” I tried to do a death toll, but it gets pretty hectic at times so I’m not sure about these:

Dudes Killed By Rambo…
– with a bow and arrows: 6
– being used as a human shield: 1
– with a knife (thrown): 1
– by breaking their neck: 2
– with a knife (stuck in the chest or gut): 4
– with a shotgun: 6
– with a rocket launcher: 3-4
– with an AK-47: 25?
– thrown off an helicopter: 3

And then when he’s on that helicopter, he blows up about half the country so who knows how many bastards he kills then, right? But Rambo doesn’t just bring in the pain, he can also take it, as illustrated in a torture sequence that would do Mel Gibson proud. He’s hung down in a mud hole full of leeches, electrocuted repeatedly, branded with his own knife… It’s quite telling that this was released the same year as “Rocky IV”: Stallone must have taken the Cold War really personal! This is clearly not high art, but as far as brainless one-man-army murder shows with minimal grunted dialogue go, this does the job thoroughly.

Rambo III (1988, Richard MacDonald)

Hum. The original movie was just “First Blood”, then “part II” was “Rambo”, hence shouldn’t we get “First Blood part III”? There’s no “Rambo II”, right?

Well, maybe there should be, as it might explain how John ended up living in Thailand, doing construction work in a monastery and hanging out in fight clubs until the Army comes to him again to do their dirty work. Rambo’s like, thanks but no thanks, but when his old friend and commanding officer is captured by Evil Soviets… NOW IT’S PERSONNAL.

The fact that this installment mostly takes place in Afghanistan makes for uncomfortable subtext in this post-9/11 era. Doest this represent the interventionist US foreign policy arrogance that made today’s world such a mess? Or should we hope for a return to those simpler days when good Americans killed bad Communists with the help of “gallant” freedom fighters?

Politics aside, there’s something wonderfully iconic about Stallone in these flicks: his sculpted muscles, his long dark hair, his headband, his low drawling voice, his tendency to have his back to us then dramatically turn to face the camera, his big-ass knife, his exploding arrows, his booby traps… He’s not a human being, he’s an action figure!

“Who are you?”

Loving it.

SEE ALSO: DIE HARD: A History of the Modern Hollywood Action Film