Directed By: Ted Kotcheff
Written By: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, and Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
This is a good movie that spawned a ridiculous franchise that there is seemingly no end to. I think this movie makes a statement. It’s about the treatment of soldiers coming back from the Vietnam War and what their lives became. It says something about the dangers of a judgmental and ignorant mentality. It’s a movie that set the tone for an entire generation of action films that would follow. I think the sequels were awful and the second one specifically was an abomination. This is the only Rambo film that is vaguely realistic and the only one that shows an actual real human in the role. That’s what I think makes this one the best of the bunch. I think it is an awesome movie, and it did so much for the industry.
This movie does make a statement about the Vietnam War and that is one of the things that set it apart from the rest of the franchise. The movie starts out and we see Rambo making what has obviously been a long walk on foot. He finally reaches his destination with hope of being reunited with an old comrade only to find that he is out of luck. His friend may have made it back from the war but in the end it was the war that did him in as he died from a cancer that was caused from exposure to Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a defoliation chemical used during the war to destroy the rain forest and make the enemy more visible. It had deadly effects all around and I don’t think it is used anymore. In this scene I think we see some of the best acting from Stallone‘s entire career. You can see the disappointment on his face, he is crushed by the news that his last friend from the war is gone and that ultimately it was the war that did him in. You can see how broken he is as he walks away when he just throws away the memories he had carried with him since the war. Those pictures and notes make no matter anymore. Outside of him they are now just the images and writing of ghosts, they are all gone and Rambo has no reason to keep them anymore. This blow to his person seems to be the last straw, he is officially broken and it turns out to just be a really bad time to run into an asshole cop. This movie says more about the war though too. In the end we see exactly how messed up Rambo is when he gets emotional. This scene is the proof that the character of Rambo was at one point actually human. He mentions the protesters when he got off the plane, and tells a short story about his friend being given a bomb by a child in Vietnam that kills him. The horrors that men had to live through in that war were like nothing we can ever imagine here in our cozy little lives. It was not fair what these men had to live through as boys drafted and sent. It was even worse what they came home to but I think that our country as a whole learned a lesson from that time. Soldiers are more celebrated than ever now and respected as heroes when they came home. There is much more to it than that, televised media was so young during the Vietnam War, things are just handled differently now all around, but that is a story that can go on forever.
I do think one of the most important lessons to take from this film is not to be so judgmental and ignorant. Brian Dennehy picked the wrong time to mess with Rambo for sure but he stopped him for no other reason than what he looked like. He had long hair, looked like a hobo, and I’m sure the sheriff was just trying to stop a panhandler from coming into town. That is why it is wrong to be judgmental though. Yeah this guy may have looked like a hippie or hobo through the sheriff’s eyes but there was more than met the eye with this one. There is an old Chinese proverb that the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took its name from. It more or less says that there is more than meets the eye with some people. They may look one way but there is much more there that we might not even know about. The sheriff in this film judged Rambo as a lowlife without any idea that he was an incredibly decorated war hero. Even once he found out who Rambo was he continued with an ignorant mentality that made everything so much worse. He was angry about the death of his friend who really just got what was coming to him, but he can’t accept that. He can’t accept the fact that he was wrong. If Rambo didn’t murder his friend and intend on causing problems in his little town then he is the jackass that arrested a war hero for a ridiculous reason, and he can’t accept that. He is the sheriff and everything that happened isn’t his fault, he was just “doing his job,” so he blames everything on Rambo and even grows to hate the man because of this. As people, all of our lives would be easier if we learned how to accept when we were wrong and try to avoid judging people based on their appearance alone.
I have read that when Stallone saw the first cut of this film that he hated it. He hated it so much that he made efforts to buy the movie back so it would never be distributed. When those efforts failed he simply told the studio to cut as much of him out of the film as possible because he didn’t want any part of it. So the movie that was ultimately released had a lot less Rambo than originally intended and I could clearly see that re-watching the movie for this review. Most of Rambo’s speaking lines and flashback scenes were cut from the movie and this allowed the story to be told by the other characters in the film and not the hero. This worked out so well when the movie was released that it actually became a model for many action films that would follow. Where the story is ultimately told by supporting characters and the hero simply does the badass stuff. So while Stallone may have initially hated this movie, what it became did more for his career and the action genre than he could have ever anticipated. I think it’s ironic if he did in fact try to buy the film back to prevent its release simply because he has gone so far with the character.
While this was a really great movie it did become the beginning of what I would consider a completely ridiculous and embarrassing franchise. The first film was real and made a statement, everything that came after was simply an abomination. Rambo: First Blood Part II was an insult to every man that fought and died in Vietnam and I think everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. If one man was capable of going over there and defeating the Vietcong single handedly then that war wouldn’t be such a black eye on our nation’s history. Not to mention the fact that there most likely weren’t any POWs left within the country of Vietnam after the war. I do not know about this but I specifically remember my professor in my class on the Vietnam War saying that the theories of such were all ridiculous. I also specifically remember him mentioning Rambo as being one of the worst films ever made. The third one wasn’t much better as it turns out those guys Rambo was fighting with and for ended up being the greatest enemies of the US thirteen years later. Yeah it was the Taliban that Rambo was fighting with in Rambo III, and it was that organization that funded Al Qaeda when they attacked the US on 9/11. I can’t remember much about the fourth film outside of nearly confusing it with a horror film because it was so gory. It was just a fantasy idea by Stallone about a man who can do anything. While I think that there is a new direction for the fifth film at one time the story that was being planned was one of the most ridiculous ideas I have ever heard.
Stallone owns the rights to a book called Hunter by James Bryon Huggins about a creature created in a lab that is on the loose. He had planned to make the book into a film for a long time but eventually decided to simply use it for the fifth Rambo. In this fifth installment the creature got loose and the only man who could track it down was the “world’s greatest tracker” John Rambo. I really remember thinking that Stallone had really lost whatever sense he had ever had when I read about that. To bring a supernatural element to a long standing and over done franchise is just an act of desperation and poor judgement. The story has been scrapped though and there is something new in the works that I think involves the drug cartels or something else that I remember thinking was a bit more appropriate for a Rambo film. Stallone’s career has been so crazy lately that he has just seemed desperate to me. Making a sixth Rocky film was a desperate attempt to get back on top and I thought much the same of the fourth and potential fifth Rambo movie. The guy needs to just hang it up, although he does seem to be onto something with The Expendables. I didn’t like that movie myself but I still think he had a great idea with what he did and I am sure many other people did like it.
I am a big fan of Stallone, but I do think he is stupid sometimes and I have spent a lot of time talking about how ridiculous his career has become. This movie was what made all of that possible though. The Rocky films were successful but he had not been able to make a hit outside of that franchise. So this movie more or less made him who he was despite what he initially thought about it. I think that this movie is great and I would recommend it to anyone. While all the other incarnations aren’t worth the time that was taken to make them, this movie is without doubt more than worth your time.
I think Ryan has obviously said enough about this movie. Every time we watch it he sits there and tells me how good it is and that I need to pay attention. I just can’t do it though….it’s a Rambo movie. Not for me, I think they are all stupid and don’t have anything to say about any of them. These movies were made for men and have nothing to offer women.
(Ryan so eloquently put exactly what I would have written anyway. Thought it was me? He is so good.)
NEXT MOVIE: Fists of Fury (1971)