First Blood: Rambo Quadrilogy Review

John Rambo

Is it possible that the most maligned action star of the last few decades, the guy that would likely be the last one picked in any ‘Hollywood’s most savvy’ or ‘he’s a thinker in real life’ lists… is it possible that Sylvester Stallone nailed the movie trilogy structure as well as anyone in history?

Probably not. But Stallone took a pretty bare bones character and simplified him even more, somehow adapting audience expectations so that we want him to cut loose and annihilate all the other bad guys, because we believe John Rambo has no other choice…

Every Rambo movie is essentially the same, in First Blood it was Rambo himself that was mistreated, in Rambo: First Blood Part 2 it was American soldiers, in Rambo 3 it was his senior officer Colonel Trautman and the Afghani people, and in Rambo (4) it was the Burmese.

The one constant is the means to the end, once the bad guys poke the bear enough – and the longer the series goes the more poking is required – the methods remain the same: shoot, stab, snap, boom… and whatever sound an arrow makes.

And as a male 18 – 39 might I speak for us all and say boy don’t we like it when the bear is poked, we grin like idiots when the bad guy of the day starts pushing, and giggle like schoolgirls when the bandana comes on, meaning John Rambo has once again been:

Pushed. Too. Far.

Hell even the 20 years late third sequel was way better than I expected just by being EXACTLY THE SAME!

I’ve said it before, but young males are like hamsters pushing a bar for a pellet of food, we don’t expect much variety or creativity, just keep giving us the same thing and we’re happy.

Sylvester Stallone might be the only guy who isn’t too clever to realise this. The end result is over three quarters of a BILLION in worldwide box office.


First Blood

John Rambo wasn’t born a franchise, he was initially just a Vietnam veteran back in the United States, faced by a country that didn’t seem to welcome his sacrifice for his nation or appreciate the lengths he went to protect their way of life.

John Rambo was insecure and eager to please, to be reintegrated back into society. Accepted. Struck with the realisation that many of his returned vets have already died, Rambo is headed North on foot when he arrives at the outskirts of a town called Hope.

And this is where 4 movies chock full of cinematic violence really start.

The local Sheriff is named Will (Brian Dennehy), he spots what appears to him as a long haired troublemaker wandering into his town and immediately offers him a lift.

The other way.

This over-zealous act isn’t appreciated by Rambo, who immediately turns back and starts to trudge back towards hope, Will takes this as personally and immediately takes him into custody to teach this unkempt loner a lesson.

The many moods of Rambo #2: Curious

Now mere unpleasant treatment rapidly takes a turn for the worse when a couple of cops with something to prove start seeing Rambo as a personal challenge, deciding that breaking his will should somehow teach him a lesson. Not even the obvious scars that cover this quiet man’s body alter their misguided mindset.

But then the mistreatment triggers some ‘Nam flashbacks in Rambo’s fragile brain, and his years of combat training and instinct kicks into gear. Rambo escapes in a whirlwind of physical violence and hightails it to the mountains near town, where heavy bush should provide him with sanctuary. Will though has now officially lost the plot and summons the entire force of about half a dozen (it’s a small town remember?) to what essentially equates to a ‘good ole boy’ hunt.

The many moods of Rambo #3: Rebellious

Things again escalate when Rambo reacts negatively (but understandably) to being shot at not once, but twice, the second such incident leading to the unfortunate death of his primary tormentor from earlier in the day.

The tone of the hunt becomes decidedly less jovial and from this point on Rambo reverts to the ‘old’ ways…

The many moods of Rambo #4: exploring

The final hour or so sees the genesis of certain recurring plot elements that become more and more familiar to action fans – not always Rambo films either – the army gets involved and the lone man is significantly outnumbered and seemingly at the mercy of the elements with a big storm coming in.

Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) appears midway through the film as something resembling Rambo’s publicist. He is the guy who pops up in each and every film that warns anyone dumb enough to not know yet (including the audience) of what to expect, reeling off Rambo’s credentials before ending with a carefully chosen brief one-liner that removes all doubt as to his intent…

I think in this film it was “God would have mercy. He won’t.” In later films he made sure to include Rambo’s name, it must’ve looked better on the promotional materials.

First Blood is actually a superior film to all of the sequels even if it perhaps didn’t garner the box-office or teen audience. It is pretty well acted, very fast paced (for the 80s anyway) and boasted an exceptionally strong low key soundtrack. The violence is also mis-remembered, by my count only one fatality in the entire film – but before we think it is a Care Bears type film it would be fair to say that many men would be limping permanently after the credits rolled.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. The first film in the series is actually the most atypical in the bunch (and the best). And if this is too slow and non-violent for you consider it an intro to the guy who will go on to kill hundreds of foreigners in the next three movies.

Rambo: First Blood Part 2

John Rambo is back to inspire a generation of impressionable young boys to smear mud on their faces and hide under bushes before emerging to kill imaginary foes.

The next two films in the series differ only in the location and the garb of those that John Rambo will be slaughtering in huge numbers.

In Rambo 2 he is lured back to Vietnam to look for POWs that are rumoured to still be detained even though the war is long since past – why they would continue to feed them isn’t satisfactorily explained but it justifies the bang bang that ensues.

Rambo is the strong and silent type, for the first half hour he says about a word a minute – mimes are more chatty. With this lack of self-promotion Colonel Trautman once again makes an appearance to remind the cheap seats that the quiet guy is actually a dangerous killing machine.

Rambo 2 sees Stallone outfit his hero with the now familiar headband, singlet and rock star hair combo, and the film also gives him a love interest in his guide, perhaps the whitest Asian woman on the continent. She and Rambo share a conversation that could pass as tender, all the more remarkable considering that English is obviously not the first language for either of them.

The many moods of Rambo #5: Picturesque

Rambo doesn’t make his first kill in the film until the 32nd minute mark. He was hardly chatty before that point but from then on he let’s his actions do the talking, except for the occasional grunt or ‘yeearggghhh’.

The many moods of Rambo #6: Thoughtful

Once the killing starts it doesn’t let up until the credits roll, I tried to count for a while but the fast cutting and sheer weight of corpses made it difficult, leading to questions like:

  • “Was that guy flying through the air freshly dead or was he still moving from the last explosion?”
  • “How many guys fell over when Rambo strafed that group and how many dived for cover?”
  • “Um how many victims should I assume were in that exploding building?”

In the end I gave up, but I am confident the head count topped 60 or 70 easily. For some reason the filmmakers decided that dramatically lowering the population of Vietnam wasn’t sufficient and introduced some Russian soldiers to add some unnecessary spice and to increase the accent count, but it’s what is on the inside that counts isn’t it? And Rambo proves that if you cross him you’ll end up a lovely spray of red.

The many moods of Rambo #7: Muddy

U.S.A! U.S.A! Repeat until stupid. (That should be enough.)

Will he find the prisoners? Will he engage the enemy? Will he kill an awful lot of them singlehandedly?

Well if you read this many words and didn’t already guess the answers congratulations for learning to read, but you’ve got a lot of work to do.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Mindless violence doesn’t get much better.

Rambo 3

Pattern ingrained: Rambo want peace… Trautman want Rambo for war… Rambo reluctant… But muscles like war…

This time Rambo only enters the fray when Trautman fails, so initially Ramby 3 is a rescue mission in Afghanistan, with the invading Russian army being the bad guys. Thank god the Russians made it PC to shoot some white people for a change.

Rambo is again out-gunned, out-manned and out-equipped. Which makes what ensues all the more out-landish.

The many moods of Rambo #8: Hairy

Pausing only to hurl a sheep’s carcass Rambo is once again forced to unleash his fury upon and entire army of trained soldiers replete with massive helicopters and barricaded forts. I wouldn’t have dared count just how many he takes out in the space of thirty minutes or so but it is at least triple digits.

The many moods of Rambo #9: Lightly sauteed

This time around Stallone educates the same boys who thought hiding under sticks was cool about treating a gunshot wound – the first boys who told us that it was called ‘cauterising’ the wound in my town were looked upon as Gods. Whatever it is actually called and whether it is realistic or not is irrelevant. It looked cool and painful at once.

Again there was a certain repetitiveness to the proceedings: after being drawn in against his well things get personal between Rambo and the lead bad guy, for the third film in a row he manages to find a radio with a direct line to his attacker which enables him to pass on his monosyllabic threats before carrying them out a few moments later. The battle scenes with Rambo and Trautman are destructive to say the least, with running from explosions a theme and some inane battle chatter between the pair perhaps the oddest in a series of films not renowned for its dialogue.

The many moods of Rambo #10: Jaded

Apparently at the time of release Rambo 3 was the most expensive film ever made, I can only imagine that the bulk of the budget went in explosions and steroids. But the end result is typically serviceable, and the box-office return of nearly 200 M would’ve covered some of the costs.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Totally unnecessary and practically the same film as its predecessor. But for what it is it works well.

If you liked Rambo 2 you’ll like this.

Those 2 words had me lining up for tix.

You might criticise Sly Stallone for many things, the steroids, the slow lisped drawl, the fact that his seemingly has ignored the possibility that his “window” of relevance closed some 20 years ago… but the indisputable fact is that Sly knows that critics don’t pay for tickets to his movies, males 16 to 30 something do.

To that end I have paid for Rocky Balboa (pretty good), The Expendables (ditto but perhaps less so) and (a couple years ago) I lined up for Rambo 4 – fully expecting it to suck by the way.

And it was pretty good too.

See the fact is most males 16 to 30 something know what they like and don’t care too much about quality. This explains the tens of millions annually that go to companies that manufacture cheap beer, that make greasy food like Hungry Jacks and KFC, that finance the inexplicable careers of scrubs like Linkin Park and Good Charlotte, that keep thousands lined up to watch inferior wrestling and boxing several layers below large purse or WWE stuff.

We’re simple beings that don’t need much to consider ourselves entertained, some years ago Sly worked this simple formula out and has a 4 decade strong career because of it.

At one point in Rambo 4 someone asks Sly “How did you end up here”, his reply: “It’s complicated”.  And how.

The many moods of Rambo #11: Just chillaxing.

This edition of “Sly kills people who speak English funny” takes place in Thailand and Burma. Rambo has given up the “life” to become a snake catcher, he is grizzled, long haired, (still buff), maintains a low profile and is at one with the locals.

Until some do-gooders roll in to change things… after much resistance Rambo inevitably agrees to ferry them – for no fee – upriver to Burma, where the peaceful locals are being terrorised and slaughtered by corrupt soldiers.

After a bit of preaching and presumptions made by the church group, lead by a couple named Michael and Sarah, Rambo gets them all to the drop-off – not without first having to kill a few pirates along the journey – much to the chagrin and judgment of the group he just saved.

Job done right? Course not… about 10 minutes later the group find themselves in the middle of a massacre and they are taken prisoner by the dastardly soldiers.

I must point out here that we are shown numerous times just how evil and disgusting these troops are, lest we think Rambo is gunning down random guys for no reason, they mistreat children, women, prisoners, locals and each other. In a not so subtle way Sly is saying “Look I more or less HAVE to butcher these people in various bloody and gruesome ways, look at what they keep doing!”

But this time Rambo will not be alone, the church has somehow financed a bunch of mercenaries into the fray, they are the usual blend of quiet killers, bragadocious dicks and seasoned pros. Rambo keeps mum for a while – but when the time is right he clearly illustrates his alpha-dog status and shows everyone just who is leading this show.

Now we are told that it is about 100 odd soldiers ve 8 guys… but one of them is pushing 60, talks with a lisp and has a bow and arrow.

Advantage good guys??

And it’s basically bang-bang-stab from here for 40 minutes.

The many moods of Rambo #12: Perturbed.

Harking back to my point about the violence, and remembering the fact that Rambo 4 follows First Blood, Rambo 2 and Rambo 3, this film is perhaps more violent than any of its predecessors. Victims are decapitated, blown in half, pureed and exploded into a fine bloody mist. The entire gig is CGI assisted, so while it is indeed more realistic I can’t see just how much more disgusted anyone can be than in the former films in the series.

I’m not here to stick of for the violence against kids and women though, but if the reports are to believed unfortunately that might be the realest part of the film, so instead of picketing films like Rambo 4 that hardly glorify such actions, maybe looking more closely at the alleged perpetrators might be more productive?

Above all we must keep in mind this is a Rambo action film, so we know a peaceful Rambo will be lured from a self imposed retirement to kill hundreds of highly trained soldiers all by himself in various violent ways.

The many moods of Rambo #13: Wistful.

To that end Rambo (4) succeeds, the mega shootout that ends the film has an epic body count – and I’m sure if someone ever bothered to count it would easily top the 100 soldiers purported to be the total enemy force – and Rambo is suitably low key and reluctant until the switch is pulled.

As an informative tale of human drama you might be better served sticking with Hotel Rwanda, but as an entertaining shoot ‘em up you can’t go past Sly, even nearly 30 years on from his first action flick.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Sly once again pushes all the right buttons. Don’t expect to be blown away though, (that only happens to the naughty guys in the film).

Quadrilogy Summary

Criticising Sly Stallone for continually going back to the well is like bagging American Idol; easy, warranted and pointless. As Simon Cowell might say “Stop watching you gormless morons and we’ll stop making it”. Then he would go back to counting his money and shrinking his T-Shirts.

Stallone supplies a product with precious little value or purpose, but it is lapped up again and again by a very profitable demographic. Hence the unnecessary sequels.

To summarise the Rambo quadrilogy is easy: First one good (not Great). Second, third and fourth practically replicas of each other. All at worst OK. At best… OK.

In truth Rambo movies are like what Rage Against the Machine albums once were. Every four years or so RATM or Sly would release exactly the same product, but as it had been a few years since the last one the market was ready for more and lapped it up. But then a mere couple months later consumers realised ‘wait this is the same as the last’, and sales stopped.

Four years later, memories wiped by various energy drinks and mountains of fast food, those same punters line up again for the next installment.

Who knows, if steroids defy the aging process Sly just might have a couple more Rambo films in him, and against my better judgment I just might line up again myself…

Full Stop.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine.

I don’t expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don’t be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong… and hopefully if you think I got it right for once.

Don’t be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.

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