Rambo from First Blood to Last Blood
There's no denying that John Rambo, played note-perfectly by Sylvester Stallone, is an action movie legend.
He's come a long way from his screen debut in 'First Blood' in 1982 to this week's movie release 'Rambo: Last Blood', which is supposedly Sly's final outing in the role.
Across five movies released over 37 years, it's been a long road for the titular character. And it seems only fitting that we pay tribute and celebrate the journey he has gone on.
Deservedly praised as the best in the franchise, 'First Blood' kicked off the franchise in style. Looking back on it now, it's clear the feature draws as much on melodrama as it does on action, offering a poignant and tragic insight into what Vietnam war veterans came home to. They went across the ocean and suffered great losses for the love of their country. However their fellow citizens abandoned and blamed them for the war.
When we first meet John Rambo, he is looking to reconnect with an old friend, but is treated coolly and turned away. Looking for a place of peace and sanctuary, John is turned away left right and centre. Treated like a criminal, he is driven to the point where his PTSD kicks in and he does lash out. This is of course where the action we've been expecting kicks in.
Rambo later develops a rep for having the highest death count of any action hero out there (By 'Rambo III', he'd 115 kills and by the next movie, that racked up to 254). But in 'First Blood', he only kills one man and as our protagonist points out "they drew first blood, not me". It's the film that introduces us to the impressive resourcefulness of the character too as he survives minimally and kills ruthlessly - if he so chooses to.
Only his old Colonel (the late Richard Crenna) is able to get through and talks John down. But not before the veteran tells a tragic story of watching his friend's body blow apart in 'Nam. He says "Sometimes I wake up and don't know where I am, I don't talk to anyone". That disconnection continues to follow him through the series.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Much like other sequels such as 'Aliens' and 'Terminator 2', 'First Blood Part II' is a much more straightforward action film than its predecessor. It continues to portray Rambo as full of rage and the Colonel as his only ally.
John gets a top-secret assignment that's near impossible and politically motivated. He has to take photographs of a camp in Vietnam but leave the imprisoned Americans there behind. Unlike 'First Blood', John is killing aplenty at this time round. All the while he mourns that he has come home to another war, that his life will be a constant battle, and that his life is (I kid you not, he uses the exact word) "expendable."
He has an opportunity at love which is decimated but does manage to save the POWs at the end. His act of shooting up the office of the man who hired him is a big middle finger to the government. John is done loaning himself out to establishments. His loyalty, rather, is to America, as Rambo announces he'd die for his country.
I won't spend too long talking about 'Rambo III' because I think we can all admit it kind of sucks. It hasn't aged well and in spite of their being constant activity in it - the action is inorganic, random, and nonsensical - it manages to be super boring.
Still you've got Stallone and Crenna back in the fold. And in terms of Rambo's journey, there are some points of note.
We're reunited with John who has found peace in Bangkok living among the monks. He occasionally fights but this is only to make money, to donate to the community. Colonel Sam visits him with an assignment in Afghanistan, to help the people being persecuted there by the Soviet military. John initially refuses but when Sam gets in trouble, he journeys out to save him.
In this installment Rambo continues to prove how much he values friendship and loyalty. He's also still ridiculously good at killing people - but still in limbo as to where he belongs.
Twenty years on, John is now in Thailand, making a living catching snakes and offering boat rides. Meanwhile, political protests rage in Burma, and John is not happy when a group of Christian missionaries ask him to bring them there to provide aid for locals. The missionaries are captured so then John brings a team of mercenaries to rescue them. They prove no match for the Burmese soldiers so John has to come in and save the day by killing sooooo many people. ("When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing," he says at one point)
It's actually ridiculous how violent the third act gets. Then again, this is what the Rambo franchise has developed a rep for. They're going to deliver. It's also worth noting that this is the only film of the franchise Stallone directs. Knowing this character and series so well, he delivers a solid and highly entertaining feature. That is if you can accept the violence as intentionally comical.
Regarding character development, Rambo it seems is finally ready to go home to visit his father in Bowie, Arizona. And that's how we get to 'Last Blood'.
Rambo: Last Blood
Look, I'm not going to lie, 'Rambo: Last Blood' is just an OK movie (read our review here). But what I can say for it is that as the final chapter in this character's journey, you can't expect a better fit.
Since the war, John has always struggled to find a sense of place and connect with people. But in 'Last Blood' he has finally found his feet on American soil, and a family in Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). John has inherited his father's ranch in Arizona which he lives on with them. In Gabrielle he has found a sort of daughter.
In a scene at the start of 'Last Blood', John opens up to the young woman about his youth, relating how he always wanted to be a soldier. We've never heard him open up like this across the series so Gabrielle must be important. Regarding her birth father, who abandoned her when her mother was dying of cancer, Rambo warns "you don't know how black a man's heart can be". Elsewhere, he insists "I haven't changed, I'm trying to keep a lid on it". Of course that lid blows off in the shoot-em-up finale.
Without giving too much away, 'Last Blood' sees Rambo gives it all for the one family and home he has ever known. It's a shame that he's not in a forest or jungle for the last battle, given how he thrives in such environments. But at the same time, it makes perfect sense that his last hurrah is literally on home territory.
Ultimately, Rambo is a haunted character who just can't escape war, bloodshed and death. That's what characterises this surprisingly emotional last outing. Stallone co-wrote it, knowing this was the way to go. The road is long for Rambo, but it's time for the audience to go home now.