Rambo: Franchise Revisited
With the release of Rambo: Last Blood (sadly not screened for critics here), we wanted to provide a recap of the entire series to date:
First Blood (1982, dir. Ted Kotcheff)
John Rambo was in the Vietnam War. For those not in the know, the Vietnam War is the one where Forrest Gump got shot in the butt. Rambo has returned back to America after the war to get his shit together. His first stop is to reach out to a war buddy, but when he gets to the war buddy’s farm, it turns out he’s dead from diseases brought on by the punk rock band, Agent Orange, who played shows during the war. Since he has nowhere to go, Rambo decides to get something to eat and make a plan of what to do with his time. Before he can do this, the local lawman, Sheriff Brian Dennehy makes it pretty clear that he wants Rambo to leave town. He drives him to the edge of town and is like “listen dude, we’re simple people here. We don’t like trouble, we don’t like blacks, we don’t like gays, and we don’t like you because your hair is long. Trump 2020!”
But since Rambo can’t go anywhere, because his parents don’t like him or something, he sticks around and tries to get food. When Brian Dennehy gets word of this, he decides to arrest Rambo. The cops are total dicks to Rambo, but the thing is, Rambo has a superpower: Post-traumatic stress disorder. This gives him the ability to kill people HARD. Rambo uses his PTSD abilities to break free from the jail and hide in the woods. The cops try to catch him and kill him, but Rambo goes all Home Alone on their asses, and uses traps to hurt them.
Rambo’s war boss, Colonel Trautman, steps in and is all like “Yo Brian Dennehy, this dude cant be killed. I trained him in the art of PTSD, so let me bring him in.” Brian Dennehy is like “Fuck that, I eat a lot of eggs and bacon, so I can handle it.
He can’t handle it.
Eventually Rambo lights most of the town on fire and tries to kill Brian Dennehy, but Trautman is like “dude, don’t man.”
So he doesn’t. But he does deliver a solid monologue about how hard it is to shoulder the responsibility that comes with PTSD superpowers.
The movie is called First Blood because Rambo justifies his actions by stating that it was the cops who “drew first blood, not me.” It’s a way of saying “they started it,” which is true, but if we’re getting technical, Rambo is the one who caused the first bleeding wound. In fact, he’s pretty much responsible for most of the blood.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985, dir. George P. Cosmatos)
Rambo is in jail for lighting the town from the first movie on fire. At the same time a bunch of POWs remain in Vietnam after the war and the American public is concerned. The US government, however, is happy to do what they do best: make shit up and do whatever they want at any time for any reason just so long as there’s money to be made. As part of the plan, Colonel Trautman (war boss) is asked to see if he can get Rambo to bop on over to Vietnam and take pictures of the prisoners, so that better soldiers can rescue them later. Trautman is all like “there are no better soldiers than Rambo! He has PTSD!!” I believe it’s called “Operation: Pics or it didn’t happen.” I also believe that the plan doesn’t really make sense.
Rambo agrees to do the photography mission, but you can tell by how shiny he is that he’s really here to kill more people. It’s his favorite thing to do. Trautman is like “but for real though, don’t kill anyone” and Rambo is like “ah jeez, fiiiiine.” So they hook Rambo up with a camera and pop his beefy ass on a plane to Vietnam. He’s supposed to parachute down and get to snapping pics ASAP, but when he jumps out of the plane he gets caught in the engine and has to cut himself free from his supplies bag. He eventually lands in Vietnam, but way off course with nothing but a knife to survive with. Did I mention that this is co-written by James Cameron? Well, it is. And it very very very much is. I suspect that the whole USB hairplug thing from Avatar was inspired by Rambo’s hair. Prove me wrong.
Anywho, Rambo teams up with a local lady and they become slightly romantic for a moment and then within seconds she is mowed down by a machine gun. It’s crazy awesome. Rambo screams about it for a bit and then gets to killing since there’s a ton of POWs and as it turns out, the US government doesn’t actually want to free these people from their cages.
The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?
Rambo saves the day by using PTSD to fake a helicopter crash and then shoot EVERYBODY. When he gets back to base he confronts the jerkoff suit who lied to him about the mission and says he’s gonna stab him until America loves its soldiers as much as the soldiers love America. Trautman steps in and is like “dude, don’t do that or else you’ll lose your pardon.” So instead of stabbing, Rambo just walks off into the distance like he’s David Banner.
Not Bruce. David. Like the show.
Rambo III (1988, dir. Peter MacDonald)
I guess Rambo walked all the way to Thailand because he lives there now in a temple. He builds things with the local monks and generally stays out of trouble, lest his PTSD superpowers act up and he has to start killing again. It’s a good gig. He gets to use a knife, just not on people. Compromise.
Trautman rolls in one day and is like “Listen, Rambo. The Soviets are fucking up Afghanistan and we need to get in there to fuck back. You in?” Rambo is like “No way, man. I’ve got it good here. I get to cut stuff. I’m the only white guy. It’s sick. In fact, maybe you can come live with me here and you can grease my muscles.”
Trautman declines and decides to do the mission by himself. But since he doesn’t have PTSD, he gets captured by the Soviets. His boss, the dad from That 70s Show, finds Rambo and tells him what happened, which triggers Rambo’s PTSD enough that he decides to go to Afghanistan to kill as many Soviets as he can using knives, bows and arrows, and a giant gun that seems designed to highlight how gloriously sweaty Rambo is at all times. He’s like a damp, salty ham with no fat and a ton of PTSD.
There’s a catch, though: Rambo has to go to Afghanistan alone, and if he gets caught, the US government will deny any knowledge of the mission. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it raises the stakes considerably, which makes for a better, sweatier movie.
Rambo meets the local militia and he earns their respect by playing this insane game where they ride horses and throw a sheep’s corpse around. It’s kinda like quidditch only sweatier and with more sheep’s corpses. Rambo is so good at the game too. So much so that the locals are all like “whaaaaaat?” And they all know English, which is more than I can say for Rambo.
The Soviets deliver a surprise attack, but they’re ultimately no match for Rambo’s PTSD superpowers. He uses machine guns, explosive bows and arrows, and he even drives a tank for a while. He uses an explosive bow and arrow to take down a helicopter. It’s insane and it made me want to do like fifteen rails of cocaine and then vote for Reagan by shooting a ballot with a machine gun. It’s fucking sweaty and metal as fuck.
Trautman is eventually rescued, and when he and Rambo are heading home, the Soviets attack again. Rambo and Trautman are ready to take them all on at once, happily dying in service of glorious murder, but just as they prepare to make their stand, their militia friends show up and help out. They respect Rambo so damn much because of dead sheep quidditch that they kill as if they too have PTSD superpowers. It’s crazy sweaty and totally fucking metal.
By the way, this militia is the Mujahideen. The film is dedicated to “the gallant people of Afghanistan” aka the Mujahideen. Oh, time.
The closing credits are set to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” which is not metal but it is mental. Somehow it’s also sweaty.
Rambo (2008, dir. Sylvester Stallone. Yes, that Sylvester Stallone)
The fourth movie is named as if it’s the first movie, but it’s definitely the fourth. It came out right after Sylvester Stallone rebooted Rocky by naming the sixth movie as if it were the first. That was a success and all things considered, this was too. Why?
Rambo now lives in Thailand again where he hangs out and sweats while everyone else wonders why he hasn’t gotten a haircut. He really looks like he smells, but I guess that’s nothing new. Nearby is a dangerous region where some dickhead general kills people for fun and to be a dickhead. Rambo takes a “I just wanna feed my ducks” approach toward the whole thing
That is until Rita from Dexter and her merry band on humanitarians show up. This group of ragtag wannabe helpers roll through and ask Rambo to be their guide. He’s like “Fuck no, I just wanna feed my ducks,” and they’re all like “but we hear you have PTSD, and that it’ll help us survive just like it has helped you for all these years.” Rambo refuses and then changes his mind and takes them where they want to go on his cool boat because Rita from Dexter is pretty. Pirates stop them at one point so he murders them HARD. Rita from Dexter and her friends are like “Whoa dude, first you smell like a blowfish’s gym locker and now you’re killing people? You gotta go home.” So he does. And then Rita from Dexter and her friends get kidnapped by the baddies.
The humanitarian organization they work for sends in some mercenaries to rescue them, because humanitarian organizations have mercenaries on retainer, I guess. Rambo is once again asked to be a guide. At first he’s like “Can’t I just feed my fucking ducks?!” But then he’s like “Okay, what can I say? My bloodlust will never be quenched, so I might as well feed the beast instead of my ducks. Fuck them ducks. Let’s explode vaguely characterized foreigners!”
He leads the mercenaries in and shit goes down like crazy. Some of the mercs are cool but one is a total dingus who won’t listen to Rambo. Guess who gets injured first?
Rambo’s PTSD superpowers are kicked into overdrive, and he now has the ability to rip throats out with his bare hands AND cut people’s heads off in one fell swoop with his knife. It’s insane. At one point he kills so many people with a 50 cal that the front of it is dripping with the innards of his victims. How he manages to shoot everyone but his friends is a mystery to me OH WAIT HE JUST AIMS FOR BROWN PEOPLE. I’m not joking. That’s what this movie is.
And then he disembowels the lead bad guy with a machete. For America.
Rambo goes back to America and goes to the farm where his dad, who must be at least 100, presumably lives. This is clearly meant to be the very end of Rambo’s tale...but as we’re about to find out at the multiplex this weekend: PTSD doesn’t just go away, but it does get a haircut.