Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rambo (The Series)

First Blood (1982) * * *1/2

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Sly stars in the most influential (and still best) Vietnam Vet run amok film, as Sly plays Rambo, a perfectly killing machine who uses his formidable skills in the backwoods of a small town when the local deputies mistreat him and unfairly arrest him, all of a sudden Rambo is shooting a chain-gun and blowing up half the town. It’s hard to believe that this movie inspired the whole Rambo phenomenon as the film isn’t really on Rambo’s side. Certainly the film isn’t as blood thirsty or jingoistic as what was to come, but ultimately this film is fascinating because it can be seen as a cynical and viscous response to society as First Blood clearly argues that Rambo is but one violent confrontation from reverting back to his combat ways and if you push him far enough you’ll ignite the beast within. The politics are certainly what is the most interesting, but it’s also the shootouts as well as the hand to hand combat sequences that are what most likely got people behind this movie. Stallone is actually very good in the role, making for a believable insane Vietnam vet, and it wasn’t until the 4th installment where Rambo was seen as openly psychotic. Overall though despite the direction this series went, First Blood remains an essential look at the 80s in general. In other words despite being the least violent of the series, this movie succeeds in being the best because First Blood is the most political, violent and angry. Indeed it’s the movie that spoke to 80s generation and continues to be a favorite among teens years later. A classic then, but for those who didn’t like the sequels, this one is ultimately well worth seeing and different in all regards than what you might expect.

Rambo:First Blood Part II (1985) * * *

Cast: Sylevester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Martin Kove, Steven Berkoff

Directed by George P. Cosmatos

Rambo returns to do save the P.O.Ws still behind enemy lines, Rambo II, while ultimately not as good as the first, works in the mindless action department. Rambo II is ultimately just as angry as the first film, in fact where as the first one was angry at the people for not supporting veterans, this one targets the very government that made men like Rambo and then left him to flounder. The film is hard to take seriously in the credibility department, as Rambo’s mission is to sneak behind enemy lines and take pictures, and said government officials wants Rambo to fail, begging the question as to why they would bother in the first place, but Rambo II is about more than just that, it’s about delivering a big body count, pointing the finger at who’s really responsible for Vietnam and more importantly symbolizes how Rambo II was made not only to entertain the masses but to boost the morale of the country after suffering defeat in Vietnam. Indeed this film inspired numerous rip offs, mainly the Missing In Action series (although Uncommon Valor predates this movie…go figure) etc but the disgruntled vet waging a one man war became a popular phenomenon that inspired many in the genre, indeed Van Damme, Seagal and Dolph Lundgen couldn’t have had a career without such inspiration. Then as an artifact Rambo II is still just as entertaining as it was years ago, it still holds up well today despite being dated. (In fact it’s even more enjoyable because it’s so dated) It’s one of those movies that so captures the mood of the 80s so much that it ultimately becomes the decade and for fans of both nostalgia and mindless violence, few movies are as enjoyable as Rambo II.

Rambo III (1988) *

Cast:Sylvester Stallone,  Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith

Directed by Peter MacDonald

Sly is back and this time he has tried to turn over a new leaf as he has turned to the Buddhist temples to find his inner peace, it is because of this rejects a mission to help out Afghan troops from Russian oppression and in the process his mentor Col Trautman (Crenna) is captured and ergo Rambo trades in his prayer beads for his M60 Saw in what is a mostly dull one man army flick. This one lacks the angry politics or even the scope of action that the other two entries had. Indeed this sequel is flaccid, lifeless and ridiculous all at the same time. Indeed the energy and ambition is so low, it’s as if it’s getting by on fumes and what makes this even more of a loss is that Rambo III was at one time the most expensive movie at one time, and yet the action sequences are lame. The camera is in the wrong place, there is little suspense and surprisingly Rambo III takes too long to actually get down to business. Rambo III than is a very weak body-count flick, lifeless, slow and just plain boring, it’s not hard to see why this film stalled the series for 20 years. Indeed Rambo III was so inert (words cannot express how tedious this thing is) and bad, this sequel singlehandedly squashed the Rambo Phenomenon.

Rambo (2008) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Muang Muang Khin

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

This time Rambo is found in Thailand making a living by trapping cobras for his Thai employers, when a group of missionaries ask him to help them cross the border to Laos (?) to deliver the message and meds to make a difference, but when expected the Missionaries are captured by cruel dictator (Khin) it’s left up to Rambo to save them and in essence give Rambo another chance to win the Vietnam war again all on his own. Rambo is just as political as the first two, in fact it’s actually full circle, in that the Vietnam vet now seeks to be left alone from the dregs of society, and ergo tells those that would stick their noses in other people’s affairs that such is not worth it. Ergo the politics aren’t as strong or angry as the first two, but the view is just as cynical as Rambo finally realizes that he can’t live a normal life because he himself loves the thrill of killing that much. Indeed we see Rambo saying things like “When pushed, killing is as easy as breathing”… and much, much more. Indeed the message of peace is seen as laughable, as the enemy kills the weak and dominates, it’s not until a stronger force is brought in can justice or even hope prevail. Rambo then is one to see on repeat viewings, for you can see that Stallone understands the philosophy of the character that he personified. Rambo is also far bloodier, mean spirited and gory than all of the others combined, and yet despite all of this I still like the first two better because of nostalgia factor, though if I had seen this at 13 this would be high up there. As it stands now, it’s a pretty damn good one man army flick and hopefully we get more movies like this.

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