So once again we have survived.

Rambo

RAMBO: JUST RAMBO, NOT RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART 2

Poor John Rambo. Drafted into ‘Nam, transformed into a killing machine, trained to eat things that would make a billygoat puke. He came home, butted heads with an asshole sherriff, fought a bunch of cops, got a pardon so he could rescue some POWs and “win this time,” lived at a monastery I believe, real good stickfighter, made some allegiances in Afghanistan that in retrospect were not so hot but you know what they say about hindsight. Now he lives in a shack in Thailand where he catches deadly snakes for a living. His first line in the movie is telling a guy to go fuck himself. He’s real cynical about the state of the world and the inevitability of bloodshed, but some Christian missionaries convince him against his better judgment to take them in his boat and drop them off in a war zone in Burma. You guys run along now, don’t get raped or blown up. Then when they don’t come back on time he has to go back and drop off the team of mercenaries the church hires to rescue them. I wish the team had a cool name like The Holy Rollers and had pictures of Jesus, Joseph and Mary airbrushed on their weapons, but no, they’re just regular guns for hire, they don’t give a shit about that stuff. They don’t even care about the money that much, so they’re gonna turn around when things look bad. But Rambo (to them “the boatman”) changes their minds. Using a bow and arrow.

RamboRambo’s changed over the years, at least physically. He no longer looks like he’s chiseled out of stone. Now he’s chopped out of wood. He’s a fuckin tree trunk wearing a headband. Wide and thick and definitely not pretty anymore.

I like the character of Rambo, and I always like seeing him, but the mentally ill can make some bad choices. In his case that includes going on a rampage as well as making three ridiculous sequels to his classic original. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that crap too, to a certain point, but FIRST BLOOD is a legitimately great movie that towers above them and tries to be polite about it but most likely would not want to hang out with the other ones if at all possible. The idea of the original book and movie was to “bring the Vietnam War home,” but the idea of the sequels is just to send Rambo off to different wars.

FIRST BLOOD is great because you can get behind this poor bastard, even if he’s crazy, because he’s a vet and people shouldn’t be treating him like that. But him and the sherriff are just so stubborn that their dislike of each other escalates into a fucking war! In the first one he’s Travis Bickle, you’re disturbed by what he’s doing. In the sequels he’s Michael Jordan, you’re supposed to clap for him. The sequels are a bunch of gun battles, the original is an epic personality conflict that builds until the classic scene where Rambo breaks down and blubbers about what happened to his buddies. It’s a better story and a better character and it offers you all that violence you ordered but still in the end is about emotions. It assumes you’re a human and not just a sadist.

After the first blood though, what are you supposed to do for second blood? Is he gonna go on another rampage until he breaks down and cries about how guilty he feels for the first rampage? No, all they could really figure out to do is some more UNCOMMON VALOR type war and rescue movies that aren’t as original or as meaningful as FIRST BLOOD.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed RAMBO. By which I mean the new one which is titled RAMBO and not the first sequel which is subtitled RAMBO. I’m talking about RAMBO: RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART 2 PART 3. Even while being confused by the title it’s nice to see a serious old fashioned action movie in this day and age. Except for some gratuitous skipped frames (and digital touchups on the violence) it’s pretty old school. No attempt to seem modern or hip or make jokes or even point out that it’s old school. There’s not some young wiseass character making comments about Rambo, serving as the voice for the younger viewers. Fuck the younger viewers. If they need a babysitter they shouldn’t be here. The movie is very sincere so I had to kind of like it.

The action is very good and gruesome. Lots of limbs flying, people flying, blood flying. Rambo tears a guy’s throat out. He shoots people into goo. He shoots alot of arrows. He turns an unexploded WWII bomb into a PREDATOR bomb. He’s a little more down to earth than in part 2 and part 3. He has help from other badasses, he uses powerful guns as a crutch, his arrows do not have explosive tips, he runs around but he’s not being a ninja or anything. The guy’s in his 60s. The villains are hatable, though less than one-dimensional (and why does the main guy have to be gay?) The mercenaries are pretty tough, but not memorable characters.

And to be honest you gotta kind of wonder why Rambo hasn’t learned more over the years. Maybe he doesn’t have a TV out there in that shack but I’m betting somebody told him what became of his buddies in Afghanistan. He was fighting for the underdog there but it turns out the world is more complicated than just pick which side you think is the good guys and then kill and maim 500 people on the other side. Maybe he does understand that and that’s why he tried to stay out of Burma, but the way he talks about not changing things if you don’t have weapons, I think maybe he really thinks one of these wars he fights some day will actually work. He used to seem more aware, even kind of enlightened about his violence, he just didn’t know how to turn it off. Your classic asskicking pacifist.

And it’s kind of a problem that the movie is all about how bad this genocide is, and yet the high points of the movie all involve Rambo horribly murdering person after person after person after person after a whole bunch of other people that he just shot and blew up and arrowed and tore a throat out and knocked onto a landmine and blew up and etc. This is a movie that opens with a montage of real dead bodies and mutilated people in a real war and yet the audience is laughing excitedly at all the carnage that happens later. And you can’t really blame them that much. They want fun even if the movie is sitting there moping.

If you ask me ROCKY BALBOA was a way better revisiting because it was all about a character. The boxing match is thrilling, but most of the movie is about what’s left of Rocky’s life and what he makes of it. I like watching the different ways Rambo can kill people, but I’d rather know about what else is going on in there. Will he ever get his humanity back? At the end of the movie he takes the advice of one of the missionaries and finally comes home. It’s great to see him back in the U.S., walking down a road wearing the same clothes as in FIRST BLOOD. It’s like a second chance at coming home, hopefully not going on a rampage this time. If some cop gives you a hard time just turn the other cheek, Rambo. Seriously.

Anyway it’s a nice ending, probaly my favorite part of the movie, but to be honest I’m not sure how he got to that point. I’m not sure what lesson he learned or how he changed as a person. He just killed alot of people for what he thought was right. Again.

If they’re not going to do a more involved character study then I hope if there’s a part 5 they go huge. They gotta have Rambo at war in a city. What if in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE Simon had said he wanted to talk to John McClane and they said McClane? He’s suspended and he has a hangover. I’m gonna have you talk to this other guy, John Rambo, is that okay? If Rambo had to deal with some guys like that it might be new, but no more of these rescuing prisoners in the jungle stories, okay guys?

Also I was disappointed that he never ate anything that would make a billygoat puke, or even gag a little bit. Nice to see Rambo back though

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 26th, 2008 at 12:13 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Rambo”

  1. So apparently the new one is not going to have Rambo fight a monster, he will end up in a city “where young girls are mysteriously disappearing.” Could be good.

  2. Somebody talked him out of the monster thing? They had a poster and everything.

  3. Man, that’s a relief. That whole thing sounded like something they’d do on the Rambo cartoon.

  4. Okay, so I guess the word is he’ll still be doing that movie but the character won’t be Rambo.

  5. What’s weird is, the whole movie seems to be diametrically opposed to that ending. They had that whole montage whcih to me was Rambo finally excepting the fact that he is a killer and can’t change that, but he can channel it into saving an innocent. That’s a perfectly valid place to leave the character of Rambo, but then at the end he sort of unlearned the lesson and went back to trying to redeem himself for his life of violence. Kind of confused. Good movie though.

  6. How do you know he was trying to redeem himself for his life of violence? I think the ending is about him finally coming to terms with what he is and going home. Since there’s another movie coming out, it looks like he has decided that although he is a weapon, he can be wielded for the forces of good. He’s not hiding himself in the jungle anymore, pretending to be something he’s not. He’s going back to his hometown where everybody knows that he’s a killer.

    Or maybe they all forgot about him. After all, he probably hadn’t been back in 30 years. Still, you know how small towns are. They probably still brag about that hometown boy who led the police and National Guard on the biggest manhunt in American history.

  7. Well, in Vern’s review he talks about how Rambo says that nothing gets solved by violence, and then he goes out and solves his problems by being violent. To me, it wasn’t an issue of redeeming himself (I worded that part of my post badly) it was that he came to accept that he was a killer, so it would have made more sense to me if Rambo started wandering the world like Kane or Vincent or something, using that animal inside of him to do the things that the peaceful wouldn’t and couldn’t and shouldn’t. But then at the end, he seems to throw out that lesson and try (again) to be a peaceful guy. Since there’s a new one coming out (sans monster) I would assume that Sly’s going to toss out that epilogue and make Rambo a psycho again. Hopefully, he doesn’t make it one of Vern’s beloved “I am a peaceful guy but I just have to kill this motherfucker” movies. I don’t want to watch Rambo sit around and avoid violence until the third act, he needs to be front and center dispatching gruesome justice to everyone in his path. In my opinion.

  8. I bought the whole thing: in the beginning of FIRST BLOOD he’s floating around USA, postponing going home because he hasn’t accepted himself (as a guy to whom killing is nothing: a psychotic war machine). Also ending up in jail is easier for him in the end because there “he knows where he belongs” (his quote from FB2).
    But, as a human, he’s still hopeful. Trying to find justification he re-recruits himself in part 2. For what? By 2008 his enemy, Vietnam, has become a tourist country for back-packers; Russia is friendly; and the people he fought for, the Afghans, have become the new enemy. So, wouldn’t it be only logical for Rambo to feel betrayed, angry and lonely (“FU all and leave me alone”)?
    Rambo ends the arc of which Vietnam is the epilogue, FB is Act I, FB2 and FB3 Act II, and Rambo is the conclusion. The old story of a guy who gets made into a war machine and loses his way, then struggles to find the human inside him, only to come into the acceptance that he was so good at killing because that’s his gift. But that shouldn’t mean he can’t go home again. He’s been a POW, been in jail and then buried himself in various places around Asia, but in reality, he’s been the prison of his own mind – THIS is what he realizes in part 4.
    What I also like is that Sly doesn’t try to sell us a botox/photoshopped/polished version of himself. He looks like a 60-year old war machine should; the human equivalent of a rusty panzer tank, or for this context: a land mine. Not the polished, disarmed kind you see in war museums, but a rusty, forgotten, but ARMED one that will go off if you get too close to it. Now it doesn’t want to do that, but that’s what it was made for, sorry. Like the little pyrokinetic girl in Firestarter, Rambo struggles with his “talents”. All the more he is driven to use it, he’s also trying to push it away.
    Everything culminates in the epic end battle, which to himself is an outburst; an expression of the battle inside him. Why would old John J give a flying fuck for those religious nuts, or their cause, being deceived so many times already by other people’s idealism and the changing world already? He just can’t turn off anymore, and giving little thought even for his own safety, he sieges a .50 cal and… oh my…
    Like Daniel LaRusso winning with a Crane kick. ET getting home. Luke Skywalker hitting the ventilation shaft of the Death Star with a proton torpedo. Wall-E saving the day. The manly version of those. Manly tears. Like when Capt. Brody hits the air tank with his last bullet at the end of Jaws and the huge shark blows the fuck up, plus bittersweet.
    MAN. I swear I almost cried manly, manly tears at the end of Rambo. The guy isn’t laying suppressing fire, making every bullet count or sparing his ammo. He is pissing god’s wrath on piss-ant soldiers! At the same time practically yelling “Leave! Just leave!”. Because as much as Rambo doesn’t care about the “good guys”, he doesn’t care about the bad. If those Burmese dudes had just dropped their guns and started running, Rambo would have spared them. But no; they shoot back. They send in a truck. They send in a boat. They should have known better.

    After massacring a healthy three-digit number of baddies Rambo performs one more kill; the “this is personal” kill of the boss baddie. There is no man to man – fight, speeches or even a chance for the bad guy to try any of the usual bad guy dirty tricks (knife on the boot etc); Rambo just snuffs him off. Doesn’t tell him who he is or why he did it. Doesn’t even tell him the bad guy should have known this is coming to him. Cold. Borderline psychotic. And fitting.
    And then, just like that, Sly pulls yet another ace from his sleeve: instead of cutting into a “goodbye at the airport” scene, voice-over, one-liner or shit like that, Rambo stands on the hill, looking at the dead bodies and the blood, and says absolutely fucking nothing for a long time.
    This is the revelation: we, the audience, are not supposed to be able to relate to him, ever. He’s not like me or you. There’ll be no “Now I can stop killing” or “Now I see this and that”.
    The thing is, he’s only witnessing yet another pointless brutal killing and letting it sink that things will never be different for him if he just runs away. So he might as well stop running and accept it. This “alienating the hero from the audience” is just so fucking morbid and nihilistic and straight from the 70s that it should deserve an oscar! Sly, you got fucking balls!
    And to wrap things up, continuing without dialogue, we cut straight to the last picture, which is a replica of the first picture of FIRST BLOOD along with the beautiful score (by Jerry Goldsmith). Did Rambo find peace? Yes. Does it mean he won’t kill again? Probably. Unless something or someone pushes him.

  9. I like the cut of SPaS’s jib.

  10. SPaS that is a wonderful analysis. First Blood is my favorite Stallone movie because the Vietnam issue resonates with me. We need Rambos but we don’t know what to do with them. I did enjoy the progression to revisionist Vietnam winner and wise cracking action hero, but Rambo brought it back home. Stallone is a national treasure.

  11. Hey, I’ve got Fred in the office with me while I rewatch one of my most rewatched movies of the past several years.

    http://i50.tinypic.com/hs6bk5.jpg

    Tried to focus on John Rambo’s weapons this time. What do they mean? What does the order of appearance & usage mean, from

    snakes (Do they count?)
    to small caliber sidearm semiautomatic
    to knife
    to bow & arrow
    to bare hands
    to using a buddy’s sniper rifle just to make a diversionary noise
    to rigging a claymore onto a WWII bomb (Rambo’s war’s anti-insurgent big boom weaponry + “The Greatest Generation”‘s war’s big boom weaponry = super big boom PREDATOR bomb = what does it mean??? Is Rambo teaming up with the ghost of the Army Air Corps and American heroes Generals Stilwell & Merrill? Yeah, that’s probably what it is.)
    to rusty truck-mounted .50 cal
    to machete

    What does it all mean? Also, I might have messed up the order of weapons or forgotten some stuff because I always get so caught up in the beautiful carnage and lose track of my attempt at intellectual analysis. Sign of a successful, extremely entertaining movie, that.

  12. I could do a separate post about this, but let’s keep it on the down low so we don’t jinx anything. Yesterday Stallone did some tweeting. He said he was about to start filming CREED, and then:

    “Doing Scarpa based on Gangster Greg Scarpa after LAST BLOOD RAMBO…”

    Hopefully it really will be called “LAST BLOOD RAMBO” just to be weird. Also, I’d like if it’s *not* the last one, so it can continue its reign as the most confusingly titled series of all time.

  13. Mouth, please inform us: is “last blood” in any way terminology the military actually uses?

    If cinema’s FINAL CHAPTERs have taught us anything, this won’t be the last.

  14. Rambo's 1st Look | Tiger Shroff In Action Mode

    Check out the 1st look poster of the upcoming action film Rambo featuring Tiger Shroff in the titular role.

    Well shit. I had no idea this was happening.

  15. Rambollywood?

  16. I’m sure Tiger Shroff will put heart, soul into Rambo remake: Sylvester Stallone

    Tiger Shroff is all set to step into the shoes of Sylvester Stallone with the Indian remake of Rambo.

    After initially saying “I hope they don’t fuck it up”(paraphrased by me), Stallone gave them his blessing and best wishes.

  17. Original 'Rambo' Sylvester Stallone now wishes Tiger Shroff GOOD LUCK for Indian Rambo remake! | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis

    Original 'Rambo' Sylvester Stallone now wishes Tiger Shroff GOOD LUCK for Indian Rambo remake! - Did the Hollywood star just take a U-turn on his previous message?

    After initially saying “I hope they don’t fuck it up”, Sly gave his blessing.

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