Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Rambo trilogy

First Blood

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, and Richard Crenna

Director: Ted Kotcheff

93 minutes (15) 1982
Studio Canal 4K Ultra HD  

Rating: 9/10
Review by Michael Marshall Smith
The key thing you have to remember about First Blood, the movie that introduced Rambo to the world, is that it came before Rambo: First Blood II, and Rambo III. This may sound self-evident. But, while the sequels could reasonably be described as pieces of jingoistic crap, First Blood is a honest-to-goodness proper movie, of a type which people seldom bother to make any more.

John Rambo is a drifter, a veteran of the war in Vietnam. On a search for surviving members of his platoon - and after discovering that he’s the only one left - he happens upon a small burg in the Oregon mountains, looking for a bite to eat. The local sheriff feels it’s better that he keep moving on, and gives him a lift out of town. Rambo decides that he’s had enough of being shoved around, and walks the hell back into town. The cops push him just a little too hard, and Rambo knocks heads together before escaping into the woods, with the sheriff hard on his tail. Neither are bad men, and neither will back down. Both are simply defending what they believe in - and hell follows after.

Had it not been for the muddying effect of the vastly politically-incorrect sequels, this movie would be remembered as one of the great action movies of the early 1980s. Its take on Vietnam, while not perhaps utterly fashionable, is low-key and not objectionable - providing, in the unreasoning conflict between the two leads, as good a moral as any. The movie’s mythic beats - the hero crossing water to return to the town he's been thrown out of; a transformative time in the wilderness; and the wild man’s return to wreak revenge on the civilisation which has ostracised him - all work brilliantly as a modern-day western. 

No one is ever likely to give Sly an Oscar, but in this part he’s perfect - working to fill the role, not just going through the action-hero motions. It’s one of Stallone’s best performances, with a simple facility that he didn't better until Copland nearly 20 years later. Brian Dennehy - long-since consigned to straight-to-disc fodder - is superb as the small-town sheriff, and Richard Crenna turns in a clipped cameo as Rambo’s former mentor and father-figure, who is finally forced to confront the war’s legacy on the ordinary men caught up in it. Also look out for David Caruso - later the star of NYPD Blue - as an inexperienced deputy.

First Blood isn’t loaded with special effects to be exhaustively cooed over, and a blow-by-blow commentary from director Ted Kotcheff would have added nothing. This is an action movie of the old school, and as such relies upon pace, storytelling and character rather than CGI or self-indulgent anecdotery. The bottom line is that it’s Sly Stallone running through the woods and blowing-up shit, back in the days when he was a star on top of the world, and I don’t need an excuse to enjoy that kind of thing. Sling it in your disc player, sit back, and let it rip.

Rambo Takes The 1980s - part 1
Making-of featurette: Drawing First Blood  
Alternate endings, deleted scenes, trailers
How To Become Rambo - part 1
The Restoration
The Real Nam
Forging Heroes
Audio commentary by actor Sylvester Stallone
Audio commentary by screenwriter David Morell

Rambo: First Blood - Part II

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, and Martin Kove

Director: George P. Cosmatos

95 minutes (15) 1985
Studio Canal 4K Ultra HD  

Rating: 6/10
Review by Stephen Lee
This is the second film of this trilogy starring Sylvester Stallone, here wearing his Rocky II body, well directed by George Cosmatos, who has managed to catch all of the stallion’s muscle definitions using a variety of well-staged action poses. Stallone, who co-writes with James Cameron, follows Rambo’s adventure in First Blood, which was a far better movie using the same character, and this sequel includes his C.O. played once more by Richard Crenna.

This enjoyable yarn takes our all American hero with his Tarzan hair-style out of prison and back to Vietnam for a mission to photograph POWs if he can find any. Quickly losing his camera he decides instead to re-fight the war all by himself with a comic-book style. Rambo: First Blood II is about the veterans of the war who are lost, and trying to find answers and some recognition as patriots. Stallone shows our hero used, abused and deceived by both sides before returning to the cheers of some while striking fear in others. Rambo makes a speech on behalf of all disgruntled ’Nam-vets and walks off toward another sequel to the strains of ‘It’s a long road, when you’re on your own.’ But is that all?

Well, no, it’s not - I believe the film means more to the Yanks than any of us can possibly imagine as we Brits just see it as another highly entertaining action adventure. Back in 1985, when this was made, some Hollywood superstars (James Coburn, William Shatner, Clint Eastward, and Robert Redford among them) reportedly funded a mission to find American POWs. Did Rambo prick the conscience of a nation? Watching the interviews in the special features section, it’s clear this was always Stallone’s intention. My favourite moment in this adventure is when the hero camouflages himself in a mud-wall, only to open his eyes to take out another bad guy.

Rambo Takes The 1980s - part 2
We get to Win This Time
Action in the Jungle
The Last American POW
Sean Baker - Fulfilling a Dream
Interview: Sylvester Stallone
Interview: Richard Crenna
How To Become Rambo - part 2
Director’s commentary by George P. Cosmatos

Rambo III

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, and Kurtwood Smith

Director: Peter MacDonald

101 minutes (18) 1988
Studio Canal 4K Ultra HD  

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary
Rambo’s old commanding officer, and only friend, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), finds him stick-fighting for pocket money whilst living in a monastery in Bangkok. Unable to convince the ex-soldier to accompany him on a secret US supply operation to war-torn Afghanistan, the luckless Trautman goes in, anyway, and is promptly taken prisoner by a Soviet patrol. Naturally, when Rambo hears of his friend’s capture, he embarks upon an apparently suicidal rescue mission.

In the desert camps, fanatical Mujahedin warriors engage occupying Russian forces, pitting untrained riflemen, ragged horse cavalry, and petrol bombs against mortars, big tanks and air supremacy. The motley guerrilla resistance is further hampered by spies in their midst, as enemy agents are everywhere under the new communist regime. However, knowing that he’s on his way is not the same thing as seeing him coming, and Rambo proves he’s just as stealthy as any Hong Kong movie ninja, when he sneaks into a ramshackle yet strongly defended Soviet fortress to free Trautman, who has been tortured, along with numerous rebel POWs.

Director Peter MacDonald did the helicopter stunts on Rambo: First Blood II. In this sequel he makes good use of the USSR’s gigantic Hind-D (a heavily armed combat helicopter that’s big as a house), and ably bridges the action and war genres with many absurdly dramatic scenes - such as the one which shows our hero shooting down an attacking gunship with just his trusty bow-and-arrow. Of course, this being a Stallone adventure, there’s little understanding of the complex realities of Afghan culture and Asian politics. Instead, what Rambo III delivers is a rousing battle-fest, shot on raw locations in Israel and Arizona by veteran stunt-supervisor Vic Armstrong, so it’s like an explosively modern western epic, with a sky-high body-count that requires no thought whatsoever to appreciate.

The appeal of the Rambo trilogy remains rooted in cowboy-movie traditions of the heroic loner, portrayed as the one man who can make a difference in actioner situations where conventional wisdom, rational thinking, or morality has failed to secure any solution. As John Rambo, Stallone presents us with a practical superhero, only nominally an ordinary guy, because he strives for something far greater. Like the costumed Batman or Captain America, and perhaps even James Bond, Rambo is now established as a classic hero and a brutally honest warrior against injustice on the international stage.

Rambo Takes The 1980s - part 3
Full Circle
A Hero’s Journey
Rambo’s Survival Hardware
Alternate beginning, deleted scenes
Interview with Sylvester Stallone
Afghanistan: A Land In Crisis
Guts And Glory
Trautman & Rambo
How To Become Rambo - part 3
Director’s commentary by Peter MacDonald

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