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Recap on all four past "Rambo" movies


Date Posted: 18 September 2019


Stallone is making a comeback to his iconic Rambo role in "Rambo: Last Blood".

Sylvester Stallone may be 73-years-old, but he has yet to rest on his laurels, as evidently seen in his upcoming physically-demanding action sequel "Rambo: Last Blood".

In case you are losing count, it would mark the fifth movie in the 37-year-old franchise. As we wait for its release this week, let's recap all the previous four "Rambo" movies released between 1982 and 2008.

"First Blood" (1982)

Rambo is on the run in a scene from "First Blood".

Mention the title "Rambo", and the first thing that mostly comes to mind is the image of a ripped, battle-hardened one-man army capable of single-handedly taking down an entire team of enemy soldiers. But long before the latter "Rambo" movies cared more about bigger firepower and a higher body count, it's easy to forget that the first "Rambo" movie a.k.a. "First Blood" was more grounded by comparison.

In the first "Rambo" instalment adapted from David Morrell's 1972 novel of the same name, we learn that John Rambo is a surviving Vietnam War veteran trying to live a normal life after coming back to America. During his trip to the small town of Hope, Washington to visit his old comrade, Rambo finds out he has passed away from cancer. While he is on his way looking for a place to eat, the town's sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy) particularly does not feel comfortable with his presence. Seeing him as a homeless drifter, Teasle ends up driving him out of Hope and warns him not to set foot in the town ever again. Naturally, Rambo refuses to leave and eventually gets himself arrested for vagrancy. The subsequent police brutality back in the station immediately triggers the PTSD-inducing flashbacks he used to suffer in Vietnam, causing him to flee from custody. Soon, a manhunt takes place as Sheriff Teasle along with his fellow deputies trying to hunt down Rambo through the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Unlike the first two sequels, "First Blood" is less of a typical war movie than a chase thriller between an escaped prisoner (Rambo) and a small-town police force. The level of violence and even the body count is considerably lower compared to the subsequent sequels (yes, even the fourth one), and yet, director Ted Kotcheff does a great job executing the action setpieces regardless of the earlier motorcycle vs police cruiser pursuit or the forest chase scene with enough grit and flair.


Even the story itself is minimal, complete with Stallone's near-silent performance as the title character who doesn't speak much - not until the final third act at least where he begins to rant in front of Richard Crenna's Colonel Sam Trautman on how he's been unfairly treated after coming back from the Vietnam War. As a result, it was one of Stallone's best performances to date other than the first "Rocky" movie up to that time. It also helps that veteran actors including the father figure-like Richard Crenna as Colonel Sam Trautman and Brian Dennehy's spot-on performance as both a bully and an arrogant sheriff deliver solid supports in their respective roles.

Here's an interesting trivia about "First Blood", like the novel itself, Rambo was supposed to die but Stallone, who adapted the screenplay alongside Michael Kozoll and William Sackheim, changed the otherwise pessimistic ending by keeping him alive. Although the result was mixed during its initial theatrical release back in 1982, "First Blood" ended up becoming a surprise hit at both the domestic and international box office, making eight times more against a reported USD14-15 million budget.

"Rambo: First Blood Part II" (1985)

Rambo takes aim with his trusty bow and arrow in "Rambo: First Blood Part II".

This is the sequel that most people associate with when it comes to a "Rambo" movie. Whereas "First Blood" may have been a big hit at the box office, it wasn't really until the arrival of "Rambo: First Blood Part II" three years later that forever sealed the deal as one of Stallone's most popular and financially-successful movies of all-time.

The story, this time, focuses more on action than a drama previously seen in the first movie. Following the events of "First Blood", Rambo is given a second chance to serve his country by embarking on a solo mission with the help of his contact, Co Phuong Bao (Julia Nickson) to take several pictures of a supposedly empty POW camp. Of course, this wouldn't be a "Rambo" movie if Stallone himself ended up just taking pictures. Besides, the whole storyline of seeing Rambo being assigned with returning to the jungles of Vietnam means there are plenty of excuses to blow things up and even have him engaged in lots of killing.

As mentioned earlier, "Rambo: First Blood Part II" is pretty much an action-packed movie - the polar opposite from what audiences saw in the first movie's grittier and small-scale structure. It's the kind of blockbuster-sized sequel where the action speaks louder than words. While it's true that the sequel tends to be outlandish and does require a suspension of disbelief, "Rambo: First Blood Part II" still manages to accomplish what it sets out to do: a no-nonsense, slickly-made 80s action cinema. Kudos to George P. Cosmatos for bringing the action to life, as audiences got to see the shirtless Rambo dispatching enemies with various choices of weapons including an M-60 machine gun, a bow with an explosive arrow tip and a rocket launcher.

Even the story has largely taken a backseat, with James Cameron's (yes, the same ambitious filmmaker who gave us the first "Terminator" movie a year prior) initial screenplay being trimmed down and rewritten by Stallone himself to give "Rambo: First Blood Part II" a more Hollywood blockbuster feel rather than sticking to the same back-to-basics structure of the first movie. Not surprisingly, the sequel was heavily greeted with negative responses from most critics, but both fans and general audiences had different thoughts altogether. Thanks to the unforgettable image of Stallone's one-man army persona, "Rambo: First Blood Part II" proved to be a bigger box-office hit in the US alone.

"Rambo III" (1988)

Rambo during a stick-fighting scene in "Rambo III".

By the time "Rambo III" arrived in 1988, Stallone had already established himself as one of the biggest Hollywood action superstars on the planet other than his then-closest rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the third movie, Rambo lays low in Thailand but is ultimately forced back into action when his old colonel-friend (Richard Crenna) gets kidnapped by a Soviet troop in Afghanistan led by Colonel Alexei Zaysen (Marc de Jonge). With no official help from the US government whatsoever, Rambo decides to take on a risky solo mission to save Colonel Trautman.

If the aforementioned synopsis sounds simple, that's because "Rambo III" is pretty much minimal when it comes to the storyline. All that matters the most is the action and for that alone, it delivers. "Rambo III", which reportedly cost USD63 million to make - a hefty sum that earned it the reputation for being the most expensive Hollywood production up to that time, featured bigger action than ever before. Sure, it had lots of implausible moments, notably the climactic tank vs helicopter scene during the final third act that raised eyebrows, but it's hard to deny the action is well-staged with enough verve and Stallone certainly went all out to provide the kind of no-brainer entertainment synonymous with the genre during the 80s era.

Although "Rambo III" did poorly at the US box office, the movie still managed to do better business overseas.

"Rambo" (2008)

A scene from "Rambo".

After the much-maligned effort of "Rambo III" in 1988, it looked as if the once-lucrative franchise had finally come to an end, but like "Rocky Balboa" two years prior, a sixth "Rocky" instalment released 16 years later after 1990's "Rocky V", Stallone went on to resurrect his other iconic character for both the older and current generation. That iconic character in question was none other than Rambo. The result is a self-titled fourth movie that sees Stallone himself taking extra double duty as both screenwriter and director in addition to taking on the lead role.

In an attempt to scale down the production, the story mainly focuses on Rambo's unlikely rescue mission to help mercenaries save the kidnapped Christian missionaries (led by Julie Benz's Sarah Miller and Paul Schulze's Michael Burnett) from the ruthless Burmese army.

Like the first three movies, the story is as simple as it gets, but ironically, it also happens to be a tedious slog - which is a surprise, considering the movie only runs a compact 91 minutes. This had largely to do with Stallone's supposed lead role being largely reduced to a secondary, passive character.

The saving grace is the climactic third act, where Stallone finally fulfils what most audiences came for in the first place: to see Rambo laying waste to as many enemies as possible. The violence is more graphic and gorier than usual and even contains a higher body count than the first three movies combined.

Even though the fourth "Rambo" movie was hardly a huge hit, it still managed to make twice the money against a reported USD50 million budget at the worldwide box-office.

"Rambo: Last Blood" opens in cinemas nationwide this week!

Writer: Casey Chong



Related Movies
Rambo: Last Blood (19 Sep 2019)


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