With the brand new “Rambo” movie — aptly titled “Rambo: Last Blood” — currently showing in our local cinemas nationwide, it’s time to look back at the past four films of the iconic Hollywood franchise released between 1982 and 2008.
First Blood (1982)
It’s easy to forget that the first “Rambo” movie was more of a minimalist character study about a PTSD-stricken Vietnam War vet trying to live a normal, civilian life than a typical 1980s-style larger-than-life action blockbuster seen over the next two sequels. Here, the movie sees the title character forced to wage a one-man war against the local law enforcement agencies. Compared to the future instalments, “First Blood” is considerably lower in stakes. But Ted Kotcheff’s taut direction along with Stallone’s largely near-silent portrayal of John Rambo helps elevate the movie into a solid action-film classic.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
This is the sequel that wouldn’t have existed if the studio had stuck to the original ending in “First Blood”… and that is killing off Rambo. Which brings us “Rambo: First Blood Part II”, a sequel that follows the tried-and-true Hollywood tradition of “bigger and louder” approach — a far cry from the more grounded first film that sees the title character returning to the jungles of Vietnam.
Believe it or not, James Cameron was originally involved in drafting the initial script for the sequel. But his version was more in line with the first film’s bleaker tone until Stallone stepped in and did a major script rewrite. The rest, for better or worse, is history as “Rambo: First Blood Part II” transformed into a more mainstream-friendly, action-packed sequel. The image of Rambo himself, all shirtless with an ammo belt strapped over his sweaty muscles even caught the public attention back then — one of the many reasons that contributed to the huge financial success in the worldwide box office.
Rambo III (1988)
Despite largely negative reviews in “Rambo: First Blood Part II”, the sequel made enough money in the box office to warrant for another instalment. Not surprisingly, the only (Hollywood) way to entice the viewers was to up the stakes higher than before. The story itself is both flimsy and simple: Rambo sets out on a one-man mission to save his mentor Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) from the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
At the time of its release in 1988, the then-hefty USD63 million budget was deemed to be the most expensive Hollywood blockbuster ever made. And it clearly shows, particularly in terms of its scale and scope of the production. The action is nevertheless top-notch, even though it tends to slip into a borderline preposterous-ness (the climactic tank vs helicopter finale quickly comes to mind). Yet, for all the promising action set-pieces, “Rambo III” failed to connect the US audiences, even though it did better in the foreign market.
By the time the fourth “Rambo” movie arrived, it looks as if the franchise and even Stallone himself were trying to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing Hollywood landscape. The movie sees Stallone himself handling extra duties as both co-writer and director, which concerns the title character’s latest mission to save a group of Christian missionaries from the ruthless army in the jungles of Burma.
“Rambo” sees Stallone scaling back the scope of the franchise’s mainstream Hollywood-style production in favour of a grittier approach. The result is an unapologetically, though over-the-top violent movie that doesn’t shy away from depicting all the blood and gore. This is particularly evident during the final scene where Rambo gunned down the army with a 50-calibre machine gun mounted on the back of a jeep.