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.
Rambo’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.