Written by / 12/23/2015 / No comments / , , , , , , , ,

SYLVESTER STALLONE IN FIRST BLOOD & RAMBO

Reviews of both FIRST BLOOD and RAMBO
Calling RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD II would make RAMBO III actually FIRST BLOOD III: RAMBO II, and that's a lot of complicated roman numerals. Plus, RAMBO is quite different than FIRST BLOOD...

Once Just A Book
In the initial vehicle, Vietnam flashbacks give former Green Beret John J. Rambo that extra strength to bust out of a small town jail and take to the forest, hunted by Brian Dennehy's stubborn Sheriff Teasle, whose character, though an important third banana, means more in the original early-70's David Morrell anti-war novel... where a cold-blooded Rambo kills hundreds of people while the story centers primarily on Teasle and even his mentor, Orval, played by John McLiam, doing nothing more than setting hunting dogs loose in the movie... Yet within the written pages, Orval, as a father figure to Teasle, represents the patriotic Second World War mindset while Teasle, a Korean vet, learns the hard way about the new "death machines" created in the unpopular Vietnam.

Foreign Posters Rule
But despite Richard Crenna... who replaced Kirk Douglas at the last minute as Rambo's former mentor, Colonel Trautman... warning Teasle about needing a lot of body bags, what Rambo creatively resorts to are also the coolest scenes: setting painful yet non-lethal traps on the naive cops (including David Caruso, Chris Mulkey and Michael Talbott) just hours after being arrested for merely drifting.

One of the few flaws of FIRST BLOOD is that Stallone's hair needed to be much longer for all the trouble he gets for having it. Looking like a construction worker who missed one haircut appointment, it should have resembled, say, John Lennon on the ABBEY ROAD cover for it to be made such a fuss about... His scruffy shagginess causes the narrow-minded cops to look down and underrate him, especially Jack Starrett's gritty second-in-charge, Galt, who actually refers to Rambo as "Hairy" while those previously mentioned flashbacks of being captured in Vietnam could have very well been glimpses into the future... That being, 1985...

Could be for either film
Enter the followup, RAMBO, written by Sylvester Stallone and future billionaire James Cameron, an action-packed vehicle that, although turning John J. Rambo into somewhat of a superhero, still remains grounded as this time our longer-haired former Green Beret is up against the real thing: remnants of the former North Vietnamese, actually in Vietnam, secretly harboring captured POW's that this film's cross between Dennehy and Starrett, square-jawed Charles Napier as business-suited jerk Marshall Murdock, is in complete denial of, aided by Stallone's former DEATH RACE 2000 co-star, Martin Kove as Ericson, following orders to pull the plug on Rambo's mission right after saving a hostage... something he wasn't sent (or meant) to do.

Sequel Poster
Like the beginning stages of the Vietnam War, the mission entails making absolutely no contact with the enemy; a surreptitious, picture-snapping "police action" that Rambo, with a silent, narrowed expression, questions from the get-go. Meanwhile, the famously quotable Trautman doesn't add as much this time around. More of a disgruntled witness to the office-stressed Murdock, leaving Rambo in the jungle where (Murdock really hopes) no man could survive.

But jolting electric torture and being surrounded by lethal locals, who are really controlled by that era's primary villain, the Russians, aren't enough to stop our title character. Despite the audience knowing he's completely unstoppable, there are still suspenseful obstacles to cover in order to survive, making this vehicle stretch beyond the literally explosive comic book yarn it's known to be. And Johnny almost has a love-interest in the beautiful Julia Nickson, providing not just eye-candy while reminding us that maverick loners, in order to remain that way, are hardly ever lucky at love.

Doomed Starlet
The timeless classic FIRST BLOOD has more of a solid three-act structure: capture, escape, and the return into town where an M60 blasting vendetta takes place, resulting in "Holidayland" being blown to bits right before Stallone's vet has a total breakdown, proving that he can, despite the monotone action vehicle performances thereafter, really act, which ROCKY fans knew already... While RAMBO is more of an entertaining, no-holds-barred, popcorn thrill-ride that pays off despite being more predictable and far-fetched than its earthy, ambiguous predecessor.

FIRST BLOOD: ****1/2
RAMBO FIRST BLOOD II: ***1/2
REVIEWS OF RAMBO III and IV
TRIVIA AND BOOK SPOILERS: In the FIRST BLOOD novel, David Morrell, who based the name Rambo on a brand of apples his wife brought home from the supermarket, pretty much created an anti-war monster who buys the farm at the end. And David was the man who was hired to write the novelization to RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD II where he explains, almost apologetically, in the introduction that he killed the character who's being resurrected. And in the original novel, Dennehy's Teasle isn't so lucky either. Instead of being bullet-riddled and severely injured, he buys the farm via Trautman's gun seconds after Teasle kills Rambo.
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