Released in 1982, at a time when Sylvester Stallone was strictly known for playing Rocky Balboa, First Blood was a fresh take on the post-war life of a battle hardened Special Forces soldier. After learning about the death of his fellow war vet, John Rambo aimlessly wanders the back roads of the Pacific Northwest. He is eventually jailed by a bitter small-town sheriff named Will Teasle for vagrancy and has to wage a different kind of warfare with the local police force. It is only after the intervention of his former commanding officer, Sam Trautman that Rambo finally comes to his senses and surrenders to the authorities. Heart-wrenching, suspenseful and filled with social commentary, I highly recommend giving this film a watch as it cemented Stallone’s star power in the 1980s.
Three years later, Sylvester Stallone reprised his role as the courageous war hero in Rambo: First Blood Part II. Co-written by rising filmmaker, James Cameron, the second installment in the action series picks up five years later where John Rambo is given an early release from prison in order to spearhead a recon mission in Vietnam for missing POWs. After teaming up with an indigenous agent named Co Bao, Rambo successfully infiltrates the enemy camp, only to be abandoned by his comrades under the orders of the duplicitous Marshall Murdoch. From this point forward, Rambo is tortured by a brutal contingent of Soviet commandos in an attempt to send a message to the American government. As the story reaches its insane climax, Rambo unleashes his legendary arsenal of weapons including rocket launchers, machine guns, explosive arrow heads and even a fully stocked helicopter against an entire village full of hostile forces. In contrast to its predecessor, Rambo: First Blood Part II is a comic-book style action/adventure littered with cardboard characters but you would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining, adrenaline rush packed into a 95 minute runtime. So just sit back, crack open a cold beverage and enjoy the ride.
If you thought that John Rambo was finished waging his own version of the Cold War against the Soviet Union… think again. In 1988, Rambo III was released in theaters worldwide to a rather lukewarm reception. The third installment in the series follows Rambo as he now spends his days building various structures for Buddhist monks in Thailand. Of course, he also makes some time for the occasional stick fight on the streets of Bangkok. One day, his old friend, Sam Trautman, pays him a visit to request his assistance in fighting off the Soviet troops that have been launching numerous attacks against the people of Afghanistan. While Rambo refuses to help at first, Trautman’s subsequent imprisonment during a night raid, convinces the ex-Green Beret to dust off his combat knife and rejoin the fight. Soon, Rambo teams up with the Mujahideen rebels to raid the nearby Soviet fortress, rescue Trautman and turn the tide of battle in their favor. While Rambo III may be seen as the weakest installment in the franchise, it still boasts some impressive action sequences, great cinematography and a final showdown between a tank and a helicopter in the vast arid desert. Let that last detail sink in and check out the black sheep of the Rambo series.
Finally, as we prepare for the release of Rambo: Last Blood, let us discuss the fourth installment in the series which is confusingly titled “Rambo”?! Well, if you have had the chance to watch the extended cut of the film, then you would know that the actual title is John Rambo. In any case, this entry in the series is a very different beast. The horrors and bloodshed of war are on full display in this story which picks up twenty years after Rambo III. John now lives in complete solitude, spending his days working as both a snake catcher and boatman in Southeast Asia. After transporting several Red Cross relief workers across the dangerous region of Burma, our titular hero is called back to action once again. Rambo works with a ragtag group of mercenaries to rescue the workers only to be confronted by the wrath of the Burmese military. This installment can only be summed up with a simple phrase: There Will Be Blood… lots of it!
Much like First Blood, the 4th installment has a powerful message about the repercussions of war. If you are interested in watching a film that is both an adrenaline rush and a story with a soul, then I encourage you to see John Rambo in all its visceral glory.