Action Heroes – Stallone: Rambo

We bookend this Stallone series (and finish the entire Action Hero retrospective) with Stallone’s self-penned and directed fourth and final Rambo movie. We wave goodbye to a hero who helped kick-start the action genre in a big bad way back in the early 80s.

Let’s discuss title confusion first. Here are the official titles of the four movies:

First Blood

Rambo: First Blood Part II

Rambo III


First Blood sort-of affectionately became known as Rambo, and the words First Blood disappeared. First Blood: Part II then became known as Rambo II, hence Rambo III getting its title. So really the new one is Rambo IV, right?

But then again should this actually be First Blood: Part IV? That means there are potentially three films with the title Rambo if the first film gets referred to as Rambo, the second has the title Rambo at the start of its title and the fourth one is just called Rambo. It’s all a bit of a mess and you could spend a good half hour dissecting the different titles. The new one was even going to be called John Rambo, which probably would have helped seeing as the final Rocky flick was called Rocky Balboa.

After the film was announced and they settled on the title, we eventually got footage online. And if I’m honest, the moment that initial red band trailer showed up I was sold. It was Stallone bringing back the OTT 80s gore and violence and making no apologies for it.  Violence goes in and out of fashion every so often and at this time it was bringing action back in an 80s flavoured way. To follow this was a year where we saw the likes of The Expendables, Machete, The A-Team and Predator. Action was back, even if it was flawed. But let’s be honest – 80s action for the large part was far from perfect. Rambo strikes a good balance between that era of action and today’s modern, more realistic, style of action film making.

The trailer demonstrated some of the best Rambo kills you’ll ever see him make. Taking a guy’s head off with his knife, then blowing a truck full of armed soldiers to bits… this was no restrained violence. And Stallone went on to defend this choice well. This film probably has the most in common with Rambo III (and to a certain extent the second film) than any other in the series as it sees John Rambo settled down near Burma!

I was sort of disappointed it was another battlefield set Rambo flick at first as First Blood was much more about character; and bringing him home to the suburban side of life may have given us a wonderful tale to watch. But upon multiple viewings Rambo has hidden depths. While JR is having a mope working the rivers of this less than hospitable area, a group of missionaries decide to step in and help those poor innocents who are suffering under a cruel regime (and we see some of the extent of that regime in a brutal early set piece where captives are made to run across a minefield).

Rambo only takes them so far and shuns any offer to become more involved. In fact he’s blatantly patronised by the group (which makes me wonder why he’d bother to help them out later. Apparently he takes a shine to the lady in the group). Of course the group are killed/captured and in come a group of mercenaries to save the day. All a bit cocksure and full of themselves, they too wind up in a spot of bother and, with a sigh, Rambo is back in action to save the day.

It’s all going to boil down to one final big set piece ending. And boy do we get it. Everyone gets involved and has to face a fact or two about life and death (such as Paul Schultz’ missionary who is forced to kill a man with his bare hands). I won’t dwell on the carnage but suffice to say the lead villain gets one of Rambo’s best kills in the franchise via a very iconic piece of Rambo’s inventory.

The final scene or more like final shot, that sees JR returning to the family homestead as the credits roll is touching. Finally he’s found a bit of peace; although at over 60 he’d be lucky to find any older living relatives back home. The familiar theme tune plays over the scroll and I went away happy that Rambo had indeed come back home again.

And this could be it. It ends on a high note; but there have been many rumours about a fifth film. Thankfully very few of these involve Rambo heading back out into the field. One of the weirdest involved him hunting down a type of feral superhuman? Really? Rambo goes sci-fi?

A more recent idea involved a more dramatic conflict back on his home turf – and sounded much more like the original film – which really is where the film should go if they make it. Let’s hope it doesn’t involve a siege by local rednecks and mountain hicks. Yeehaw!

Steven Hurst

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