Rambo: First Blood review
Spoiler level: First Blood is as old as me; if you haven’t seen it yet, tough.
I love this poster. I love the red mist, and the way they etched out Sylvester Stallone’s giant cake hair and gave it an outer glow. And then, because that would have been too subtle, added two more, progressively madder, Sylvester Stallones in the background. Rambo: First Two Clones.
I always thought Rambo was a war movie set in Vietnam. Turns out it’s set in America, in a little imaginary town called Hope, in Washington. Although apparently most of it was shot in Hope, British Columbia, Canada.
John Rambo is a Vietnam War veteran, who’s arrested for being a drifter and then picked on by the po-po until he goes apeshit. You feel me?
The first half of the film takes place in the forest, with Rambo on the run, being chased by the cops and then the National Guard. This part is fantastic, and for long stretches it feels like Vietnam. Rambo is right at home; he makes all sorts of gruesome booby traps, fashions a stylish outfit out of an old piece of canvas he finds, and lastly kills a wild boar for himself. Which is literally overkill, as there’s no way he could finish that entire thing.
The next part of the movie is in the city, where Rambo runs around blowing things up until he finally surrenders.
Incidentally, only one person is killed in the movie: the sadistic cop who dies by falling out of a helicopter into a ravine, after shooting at Rambo while the poor guy is hanging from a cliff.
Plus, psycho cop makes the helicopter pilot stay hovering in the ravine, despite the bad winds, because he has an irrational and unfounded hatred for Rambo. After a bit Rambo chucks a stone through the helicopter window – left handed! – which spooks the pilot, and the chopper wobbles, throwing the cop out. So Rambo only kills him indirectly.
Later in the movie Rambo hijacks an army truck and runs a cop car off the road, which then explodes, but we don’t know if the occupants died or not. Strictly speaking, the kill count for Rambo in this film is zero.
I also found this chart, which is quite interesting:
Check how the number of people killed per movie increases! However, number of total sex scenes = a constant zero. Even though Rambo does strangle a python in First Blood Part II.
Okay so through the whole movie there’s a hero vs nemesis thing happening between Rambo and the man who initially arrests him, Sheriff Will Teasle.
Teasle commandeers the roof of the sheriff’s office as a vantage point towards the end of the film and equips himself for a final showdown with Rambo. It’s all very exciting. But then Rambo just busts in and shoots the sheriff through the ceiling. They don’t even look each other in the eye.
The breeziness with which Rambo destroys Teasle shows us that his true nemesis is America, meaning his monologue scene with Colonel Sam Trautman right of the end of the movie is the real final showdown.
Trautman is the man who trained Rambo, sent in to try to stop him from killing an entire town.
Teasle: Whatever possessed God in heaven to make a man like Rambo?
Trautman: God didn’t make Rambo. I made him!
While he’s holed up in the sheriff’s office – surrounded! – Trautman tries to get Rambo to surrender. In true Freudywood fashion, Rambo, who has been sullenly monosyllabic throughout the movie, surprises us all with an empasioned ‘talking cure’ speech.
It is moving, but unfortunately at points it’s cringey and at other points it’s just plain funny.
Rambo: Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank. I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can’t-even-hold-a-job PARKING CARS! [throws rifle through window, weeps]
Trautman is great in this scene, he really looks awkward, like he’s not sure how to react to Rambo’s breakdown. He just keeps telling Rambo how he’s the last of an elite group, and shouldn’t end it like this, but Rambo starts sobbing and Trautman sort of looks at him, eventually edging closer and kneeling down in front of him, and Rambo leans forward for a hug. Trautman pats his back tentatively. Cut to Rambo being led out of the building in handcuffs.
So Trautman (Sam Trautman – ‘Uncle Sam’!) becomes this weird father figure. He created the monster, but doesn’t really know how to fix it now that it’s broken.
They shot a scene where Rambo commits suicide by making Trautman kill him, but test audiences said it was too depressing. (Apparently Rocky was also supposed to die in the first movie. I wonder what life would be like.)
One of the things that bugged me about the movie is that the police don’t really have enough of a reason to rile Rambo up so much. He wanders into town, after a journey to find the last of his war buddies, who has died of cancer. Sheriff Teasle picks him up and drives him 30 miles out of town to a diner, very politely trying to get rid of him. Rambo gets annoyed, and as Teasle drives away he turns around and walks straight back towards town.
The sheriff gets pissed and arrests him for being a drifter and having concealed weapon (his Rambo knife, the one with the compass in the handle. Every boy had a knock-off when I was growing up).
At the station the small-town cops bully him horribly, violently hosing him down and manhandling him, and when they try to shave him he has a war flashback that triggers a meltdown and he busts his way out of there.
But it’s pretty weak; Teasle has no feasible reason to hate Rambo so much in the first place. In fact, he goes to find Trautman in the middle on the movie, when everybody thinks Rambo has been blown up by a rocket launcher, and says: ‘I wanted to kill that boy so much that I could taste it.’ And you’re like, what, really? But why though?
However, on IMDb they mention something interesting.
(At 1:03.41) When Rambo is believed to have been killed … Teasle returns to his office. Behind him, you can clearly see a display case that displays three medals. The three medals, from right to left, are: the Silver Star, The Purple Heart, and the Army Distinguished Service Cross Medals. These indicate Teasle was a highly decorated Korean War hero as both the Silver Star and ADSC are awarded for extreme valour and bravery in enemy combat. The subtext of the book was a battle of different war tactics, for this reason; this is underplayed in the film.
There’s no way the average viewer will notice the medals and be able to name them, but here’s Teasle’s motive! Also:
A plot point that was present in the novel but absent from the film was the primary reason behind Teasle’s resentment and contempt towards Rambo, which was that Rambo was a veteran of the Vietnam War, which gained a lot of attention, whereas Teasle was a veteran of the Korean War; a war which most people had all-but-completely-forgotten at this point in time.
This would have made a much more interesting movie. Rambo: First Blood could have been, like, in a league with Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket! I’m not even kidding.
Stallone has spoken about how he sees the first Rambo as sort of a Frankenstein tale, with Rambo as the monster and Trautman as Victor Frankenstein.
In First Blood the novel, Trautman hunts Rambo down and shoots him with a shotgun. Which is kind of similar to how Frankenstein chases the fiend across Europe trying to kill it.
I reckon more influence from Frankenstein would have made an awesome film – especially if Trautman attempted to make a female Rambo before chasing his creation to the Arctic Circle. Science fiction action war movie! A new genre!
Unfortunately these decisions are left up to people with potato brains.