Over the last two days, I have been binge watching all the Rambo films leading up to this video that I wanted to share with you all. I had seen the films probably five – six years back and at that point of time they appeared to me as nothing more than the bombastic action-roller-coaster rides that they were marketed as. Yes they are that. But they are a tad bit more than that as well.
There is no point in reviewing the Rambo films simply for the reason that they have been watched and re-watched generation after generation and there is hardly anyone who doesn’t know what to expect from these films. Hence, what I decided to do in this review was to bring to the fore some specific characteristics and points in these films that have been over looked over the years. Please note that this review dwells on the first three Rambo films alone. The fourth I believe was a notch above the rest and was much more than the usual Rambo stuff. That will be a singular analysis someday.
It all started with First Blood in 1982 when Ted Kotcheff directed Sylvester Stallone as a retired Vietnam Green Barrett who leisurely walks into a sleepy town that doesn’t hold the Viet Vets in good esteem. The result is Rambo rubbing the whole Sherriff’s department of the town in wrong ways that ultimately pits the war-machine against the whole law enforcement of the town. He literally bludgeons through the people in different scenarios and later takes the fight to the Sheriff when he single handedly attacks and annihilates the Sheriff department and almost the whole town.
While people were mesmerized by the sensational action and Stallone’s terrific moves, almost all the viewers missed the last dialogue between Stallone and his commanding officer played by Richard Crenna. When Rambo breaks down in the end and literally jabbers about the situations he faced in Vietnam, in a tone that is almost impossible to understand, he is actually giving a very good representation of the mental state of the men and women who faced the war that their country sent them to and returned home to face disdain and hatred for no fault of theirs.
The two actors beautifully pull off the scene with Stallone going hyper and Crenna just looking at him with shut lips. This sequence for me was the high point of the film. This is where Rambo became a human and revealed his frustrations and desire to be treated as a human. It also showed us the limitations of our knowledge about the state of mind of those who we choose to hate.
This sequence coupled with some of the initial buildup wherein Rambo is trying to avoid the conflict plays an important role in making this film what it is in the end. No doubt the action is superb. No doubt the editing is crisp and no doubt that the film has a sense of physicality to it that is rare to find even today, but the heart of “First Blood” lies in the tragedy of Rambo than him being a killing Machine.
The second film in the series was called Rambo: First Blood Part 2. This was evidence of the name Rambo becoming more of a draw than the content of the film. It was also a layback on the content of the previous film so as to attract and tell audiences what they were in for. The film starts off with Rambo in jail for what he had done in first Blood and his commanding officer played by Richard Crenna once again taking him out of jail for a covert operation that would get him a presidential pardon. Rambo is going back to Vietnam and this time all he can shoot is with his camera.
He agrees, goes to Vietnam and falls in enemy hands again. This time, the Russian are there too. Rambo bludgeons his way through the lot and comes out trumps. However, the most poignant moment in the film comes when he shares screen time with CO played by Julia Nickson. These brief moments are interestingly warm and Stallone essays his part so well that you actually believe that this man is finally beginning to fall in love. He even agrees to take her along. Co’s character is rendered believeable by the previous references and interest that she shows towards making her way out of Vietnam. The way she looks at Rambo also speaks a lot about how she feels. So when towards the end the two share an intimate moment, it feels very warm and apt.
Too bad she is killed almost immediately and that drives Rambo crazy and he goes all out after the men who wronged him. There are multiple references in the film towards abandonment and it’s all done beautifully to make a solid impact. By the end, Rambo has lost his faith in USA and is shown taking a long and lonely walk as his commanding officer looks on.
The third installment of the film was simply called Rambo III and had Rambo saying no to his Commanding Officer in the beginning when he wants to enlist his association for a mission in Russia –invaded Afghanistan. However when Crenna is captured, Rambo travels all the way to Afghanistan to bring him back. This is arguably the weakest film in the series but it still has its moments on the emotional front. The scenes that Rambo shares with an Afghan kid, who is hell bent on going on the mission, exudes a lot of warmth.
As the film progresses he finds a voice among the Afghan men and women and their sufferings finding a link with what he experiences first hand. However the film just touches the surface of these potent dramatic elements and concentrates more on the over-the-top action. It would have served well to actually get a tad bit deeper into the human emotions even though that would have meant upsetting its target audience.
After watching the trilogy again, I am convinced that these films could have easily been more heart than blood and guts but the million dollar question is, would they be as popular as they are without the action. The fourth installment postponed the action till the very end and see what a great looking film it turned out to be. Suffice is to say, that Rambo’s story is mixed with a lot of emotion. Emotions that got lost under the rubble of collapsing building and mounting corpses. All one has to do is look closer to see what I mean.