Rambo Last Blood is such a b movie that the writer of the original book David Morrell has called it degrading embarrassment, and if you’ve read my review you’ll know that I share the same sentiment. Still, the movie may have done one thing right which is make me reflect on the other Rambo films and wonder if this latest movie is truly as much of a departure from them as my rose tinted nostalgia believes them to be. For this reason I’ve decided to rewatch the other four Rambo films and approach them from as much of a fresh perspective as I can manage and see if the good ones still hold up and if the bad ones are even worse than I remember. This is probably gonna be a rough one. Let’s get started!!
First Blood (1982)
Yeah, this one still holds up. Right off the bat, the movie does a great job of setting up the world in which Rambo lives which frankly I kind of have a hard time believing was really the case. I mean considering where we are NOW I might be a bit naïve saying that, but the fact that a cop is profiling a white dude with an American flag on his jacket, well that just seems really odd to me as someone for whom adulation and thanks are the bare requirement when interacting with a veteran. That said, patriotism and worship of the troops has ALWAYS had a two-faced nature to it where the same people screaming about respecting the troops and waving flags are the usually the first ones to trample human rights and backstab veterans who are in desperate need of help, so a small town sheriff using his outsized sense of power to quietly shuffle this guy along isn’t the MOST unrealistic thing, and like I said the movie does a great job of setting up the world in such a quick amount of time. Stallone has a quiet intensity to his performance that belies the rage burning just beneath the surface, and after only three minutes with Brian Dennehy you’d want to torch the town too. This movie excels at the way it escalates tension and how the situation just snowballs as one slight leads to a definite act leads to another sleight and so on. And sure, it does have its cheesy moments. Every time he flashes back to Vietnam it’s only a notch below the ridiculous flashbacks in Meet the Feebles (made even more so by his AMAZING mustache) and some of Stallone’s shouty faces come off as comical, but all those extremes really add to the utter desperation of this character and how despite all his muscles, his movie star good looks, and his unmatched skills at whooping ass, he’s still a complete mess as a person; exemplified by the speech at the end which is both heart breaking to listen to and a little bit funny to watch. What was really solidified for me on this latest watch is that while Rambo himself is an interesting character, he’s more of a symbolic force of nature whom the drama and political commentary revolve around. Heck, I’d wager that in overall screen time we get more of Brian Dennehy than we do of Rambo as it’s his movie first and foremost even if Rambo does eventually take center stage once we get to the aforementioned finale and the rather blunt coda of the movie. First Blood is ultimately a movie more about the time it takes place in than about the characters within it; the man pushed too far by an uncaring system and the ghosts of his past, the cops who abuse their authority under the guise of keeping law and order, even the dipshit gun toting National Guardsmen which may or may not be an accurate or fair portrayal (weekend warriors versus the REAL soldiers), but is definitely there to make a point. With the latest movie, it felt like the incoherent ramblings of a perpetually terrified racist who couldn’t even see the humanity of those who are perceived to be the enemy. To a certain extent, I can see where that sort of extreme flailing of emotions originated in this film with how much of its heart is on its sleeve, but where Last Blood wants to fuel the fires of discord, this movie is trying to draw out some kind of understanding from all of its characters and from the audience who watches it. It’s a bit tone oblivious at points and has some drastic tonal shifts throughout (the comic relief National Guardsmen REALLY stood out for me), but it has genuine heart behind it which is why it holds up so well. Now the only thing I know about the book this is based on is how it ends which greatly diverges from the movie. At the end of the book, Trautman ends up killing Rambo at the police station, and while the filmmakers did shoot a version of this for the movie they ultimately decided to go with the happier one where Rambo lives and goes quietly with the faint hope that maybe he’ll get the help he needs and that the country can do better by others like him. Well that, or they’ll just make a series of increasingly ludicrous and jingoistic movies, but what are the odds of THAT happening!?