Total Recall

Total Recall: Journey to the Center of Rambo

See how RT's resident chick flick expert tears through the first three Rambo movies.

by | January 23, 2008 | Comments

This week, 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.

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