Total Recall: Journey to the Center of Rambo
See how RT's resident chick flick expert tears through the first three Rambo movies.Sly Stallone revives one of his most iconic characters. In Rambo, John Rambo is back, after a short twenty year break. Living a solitary life as a river guide in Thailand, he discovers recent clients have been captured in Burma and decides to take matters into his own hands and straps the bandana back on. The Rambo films are now a staple in 80s pop culture, so RT decided to take a trip back to the 80s, and watch the original three Rambo films for this week's Total Recall.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of violent movies; in fact, I've somehow managed to make it this far in life without seeing any of the approximately 4,000 Terminator, Predator, or Alien films. The only Schwarzenegger or Stallone action I've seen has been of the Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot or Junior variety, and rather than seeing Cloverfield last weekend, you would have caught me at the 27 Dresses screening. So some of the editors here at Rotten Tomatoes thought it would be a hoot to give me a Rambo-centric assignment. This is how, in my mid-twenties, I finally swallowed a time capsule of the 1980s action phenomenon, and watched all three Rambo films in one blood-drenched, guerilla warfare-filled weekend.
I began my Rambo-thon with the first film to feature John Rambo, First Blood (82 percent on the Tomatometer). Unlike the plotless bloodbath I was expecting, First Blood is the tale of a Vietnam War hero who clashes with a small-town cop (played by Brian Dennehy). The cop -- who clearly has a problem with Vietnam veterans -- spots a drifter (Stallone, natch) walking through his peaceful Oregon town, and decides to bust him on a bogus charge. Bad move, Dennehy! While being interrogated and treated like livestock at the station, Rambo has flashbacks of being abused as a POW in Vietnam, and all hell breaks loose. The remainder of the film is an exhilarating chase through the primal wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Sly has some decent acting chops in the film, with the exception of his final monologue -- which I needed to watch with subtitles to fully understand.
Besides being a great "on-the-run" action flick, First Blood dramatizes many issues Vietnam veterans faced upon their return to America. But while actual Vietnam veterans had to fight their own personal wars after returning home, all Rambo needs to take on an entire police force is a ragged tarp and a novelty-sized hunting knife. Critics still hail First Blood today: Phil Villarreal of the Arizona Daily Star says, "Stallone's dogged tale of survival seems so fresh you'd swear it was made last week...except for the sad truth that they don't make 'em like that anymore."
First Blood trailer.
After my surprise positive reaction to First Blood, I was looking forward to watching Rambo: First Blood Part II (26 percent). The movie starts interestingly enough -- Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), who trained Rambo, asks him to go to Vietnam to photograph American POWs -- but after arriving in Vietnam, Rambo realizes that he's been set up, and vows to rescue the prisoners. Sounds good, right? I thought so too, until Rambo strangled a rattlesnake in the jungle within the first 10 minutes of the film. Throughout the jungle scenes, Rambo brutally kills a lot of animals, shrubbery, and people -- including pirates -- with his eerily veiny bare hands. I definitely knew the movie was trouble when I noticed Sly's suspicious muscle gain -- he looks like he devoured a few cases of human growth hormones before the cameras rolled -- and after a few minutes of dialogue and a few lame attempts at political discussion, the filmmakers decide to ditch the ideas and just blow stuff up instead. Filmcritic.com's Jeremiah Kipp agrees." No one will ever confuse this for a quality film, that's for sure. It's a macho fantasy created to convince Americans that we could have won Vietnam if only we'd trusted John Rambo." Rambo can do anything in this sequel. It doesn't matter if hundreds of people are after him; all he needs is his machine gun. Rambo was killing so many people at once that it reminded me of Hot Shots. The problem with the second Rambo is that it takes itself too seriously; if it had just embraced its cheesiness, it'd have been much more entertaining.
Rambo - First Blood Part II trailer.
After the trash that was Rambo II, I wasn't looking forward to devoting further hours to Rambo III (35 percent), but surprisingly, the third installment is a great combination of First Blood's good qualities and the tongue-in-cheek factor that Part II was missing. In Rambo III, we find Stallone living in a monastery, helping out the monks with his carpentry skills and income from stick-fighting matches (mmm...cheese). The colonel manages to track Rambo down in Thailand and -- surprise! -- asks him to join his team on a mission in Afghanistan. (It seems that an evil Russian commander is brutalizing a small Afghan village.) Rambo politely declines, since he's busy working on himself, but quickly changes his mind after learning that Trautman went in and has been captured. The scenes with Rambo interacting with the Afghan rebels show a softer side of the action hero, and teach a bit of history about the various Afghan occupations.
However, once Rambo decides to go in and save Trautman on a solo mission, the film I was expecting all along finally appears. With his bandana tied tight, Rambo shoots hundreds of Russians, defeats helicopters and tanks with a single gun, and manages to get in some great dialogue about being the Soviet commander's "worst nightmare." I especially enjoyed Rambo running through a giant explosion in a cave -- when Colonel Trautman asks how he feels, a burnt Rambo replies, "Well done." Despite some negative reviews -- and the ridiculous plot -- I had a lot of fun watching Rambo III. "Stallone has by now made Rambo parody-proof, since the character is every bit as laughable as he is grandiose; that's part of the fun," wrote Janet Maslin of the New York Times.
Rambo III trailer.
The Rambo films were all entertaining in their own ways, and the violence was fairly predictable, so it was easy for me to close my eyes whenever Rambo was performing self-surgery or slicing someone open. I'm even not- so-secretly excited to see the new Rambo. Here's hoping it combines the political undercurrent of First Blood with the cheesy puns and overall badassness of Rambo III.