Writing Switch: Thoughts from a ‘Rambo’ marathon
The U.S. has never had a war hero like John M.F. Rambo. He’s eliminated all of America’s enemies — real or presumed by societal pressures of the day — from the Viet Cong and Taintwater cops to Russian mercenaries, sex traffickers and misconceptions about traveling to dangerous places trying to do good deeds. This week we tied on some headbands, quoted Col. Samuel Trautman at the office and ran shirtless through all five “Rambo” movies from First to Last Blood, which coincidentally is also the title of the initiation pamphlet for a certain red-wearing street gang.
RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD
Sean: The big reason “Rambo: First Blood” works is because Stallone doesn’t have a lot of lines. Brian Dennehy, the asshole sheriff who hates long hair and loitering, has more dialogue. The movie is pretty believable until Trautman comes in as Rambo’s hype man/handler.
Side note: In an alternate ending Rambo commits suicide, which would have been way darker, left us without a column idea and about six less hours of great American cinema.
Hair: Feathered and lethal.
Best kill: Rambo only kills one guy* and Dennehy’s bloodthirsty henchman (not a good look for police brutality in this movie) falls to his death.
*He does kill a couple of dogs.
Best Trautman line: “God didn’t make Rambo, I made him. He was trained to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. To kill. Period.”
Ben: My “I would just let him go” point: Learning he’s a Green Beret who killed a helicopter with a rock and free solo’d a Class Six, or however climbing is ranked.
RAMBO II: ROCKET LAUNCHER MACHINE GUN
Sean: Breaking a soldier — who’s clearly suffering from PTSD, probably doing steroids and capable of snapping at any point — out of prison to conduct an illegal operation back where the trauma occurred is a bold move. What’s bolder is walking up to him on the other side of the prison fence in full uniform and pitching. If you were to go about it, my guess is there would be a bunch of backroom handshakes and minimal meetings in broad daylight in the prison yard.
Hair: Still feathered, still lethal.
Best kill: The kill count increases as much as Rambo’s pecs. He’s considerably thiccer in “First Blood: Part II” and angrier. It’s either blowing a guy up with a rocket launcher or covering himself in mud Predator style for the unsuspecting knife kill.
Best Trautman line: “What you choose to call hell he calls home.”
Ben: My “I would just let him go” point: He kills an entire boatload of people with a couple tiny knives alongside an attractive woman who clearly speaks perfect English but does so with an Asian accent and omits auxiliary verbs and articles because that’s how they talk.
RAMBO III: BLOOD, BLOOD EVERYWHERE
Ben: As in all movies, sports betting works by extending a fanned wad of bills while screaming and waving them at the competitors like it’s a strip club.
● Hey what’s the dad from “That ’70s Show” doing here?
● I’m starting to think Trautman is a real piece of shit, demanding Rambo kill again as he breaks down in tears for the second time in the series. “That’s too bad, because you’re stuck with it!” the colonel spits.
● “This is the ’80s, John Rambo, let technology do most of the work for you” — as computer screens in the background show a green, rotating scanner like the Ghost Radar app.
● Really weird close-up of Rambo’s butt/gooch while Trautman runs 30 yards ahead, not bothering to help his friend crawl out of a cathole and fight off a pursuer.
● How is Rambo still a master of everything from surgery to flying helicopters to no-scoping even though he’s been languishing in a monastery for three years? I stop playing “Red Dead Redemption” for eight months and I forget how to pet my horse.
● Rambo gets dragged along a gravel road under a tank for hundreds of yards, but in the next scene the back of his shirt is only a little dirty. Cue patriotic music.
● Aircraft full of missiles crashes, but wings mercifully fall off and bombs don’t detonate. No ricochet when soldiers blindly fire their weapons in a cave.
● Spoiler alert: In the DVD title screen, Rambo has a cold sore on his lip. But in the movie, Trautman has one while Rambo is herpes-free.
Sean: So much to digest. Is Rambo fighting the Russians with the Taliban? Why is he stick-fighting for charity? Where is he getting all these bows and explosive arrows? What are the rules of Buzkashi? I never thought I needed to see Rambo riding a horse but I’m glad it happened (also, foreshadowing?). The convoluted storyline features Rambo befriending a child soldier, swimming through feces and taking down several helicopters.
Hair: Looks good but seemed to get wet with nightfall.
Best kill: Rambo pulls a pin out of a grenade on the main thug’s jacket and karate kicks him, forcing him to fall down a hole to a cave where he snaps his neck because earlier Rambo wrapped a rope around it and then blows up due to the grenade.
Best Trautman line: Main Russian bad guy: “Who is this man? God?” Trautman: “No, God would have mercy. He won’t.”
Bonus line: Trautman after Rambo has a brush with a fiery eplosion: “How you doing, Rambo?” Rambo: “Well done.”
RAMBO IV: SUPPOSED TO BE THE LAST ONE BUT WE DIDN’T KNOW STALLONE WOULD LIVE SO LONG
Ben: I hear the same children laughing sound clip that Rare used in the title screen for “Diddy Kong Racing.” It’s the new Wilhelm scream.
● Credit to wise, old John Rambo and Rocky Balboa for coming up with the greatest quotes of their franchises in the fourth installment — we have “Live for nothing or die for something” and “It’s not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” respectively. I’ve noticed they’ve become essentially the same person.
● Action shots are now Rambo just hurdling fallen logs and he keeps his clothes on this time. After a lifetime of silicon and HGH, he must have some disturbing man boobs.
● I really want to pluck the bad guy’s mole hair but that might go against cultural appropriations.
● STANDARD-ISSUE CLAYMORE WITH NUCLEAR POWER!
● Cue patriotic music. I can’t tell if it’s the same song as the last movie but I think so.
● And we thought it was gross when the police officer in the first movie fell out of the chopper and got a little ketchup on his face. The reviews for “Last Blood” say too much gore, while this shit is straight CGI disgusting and over a decade old. I’m bringing a barf bag to the theater for the fifth edition.
Sean: As special effects improve, so does the gore. They really jump the human flesh-eating pig in this one. I’m not sure why Rambo thought retiring to genocidal Southeast Asia was going to be relaxing but it is not. There are pirates and homicidal armies. Soldiers are literally betting on which prisoner will get blown up during a footrace through mine-infested rice fields. This time Rambo is the old vet because the actor who played Trautman died or because the fictional Trautman is serving time for war crimes. Anyway, yada yada yada, Rambo saves a bunch of missionaries with the help of mercenaries but not before he crafts a machete perfect for decapitation.
Hair: It’s a little flat. No real bounce. Looks good wet but the award for unintentional comedy is the closing scene, an ode to the end of First Blood walking down the highway but with a brutally bad wig or extensions.
Best kill: Rambo goes full Dalton from “Road House” and rips a rapist’s throat out.
RAMBO V: IT ENDS WITH HIM BLEEDING OUT
Ben: “Remember how my uncle stared at you and creeped you out last time you came over? Yeah he wants you to come back and have an underage drinking party in the maze of flashback tunnels he dug over the past 11 years! There’s cellphone service!”
● Rambo was a cultural icon before I was even born. How have these hoodlums never seen his movies? If I capture a bloodthirsty, legendary warrior snooping around the sex and drugs complex, my thinking process won’t include “Yeah, I’m gonna keep you alive. But let this spankin’ be a warnin’ to ya!”
● “Why not me?” he ironically moans when a loved one dies. I was wondering this myself as he managed to dodge (almost) every bullet at a rate that vastly outweighs statistics over the course of many certain-death campaigns.
● Heavily armed cartel in Escalades traveling across the border. Good thing they brought their passports.
Best quote: “Nothing is ever done.” We were both clamoring for a “NOTHING IS OVER!” callback but got blueballed.
● Nice to see a sensitive side to John Rambo touching the heart of others. Cue patriotic music. Definitely the same track.
Sean: I’m pretty sure Stallone took all his “Expendables” checks and ran straight to the worst plastic surgeon he could find. This really should have been more “Gran Torino” than “Expendables” mixed with failed “Taken.” The only thing this plot has to do with past Rambos is horse riding. Rambo can take on entire armies, pirates, Brian Dennehy but a Mexican cartel is too much — or is it?
Hair: Sad day for the fans of luscious locks. It’s mostly chopped off with nothing but poorly colored gray hair.
Best kill: Don’t want to give too much away because I don’t want to spoil it when you inevitably watch it on Netflix in February, but “Temple of Doom” anyone?
We also liked the instrumental evolution of the “It’s a Long Road” theme song.
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Maybe it is the tenor of the times, perhaps it is just that people are eating more at home with the pandemic still at hand, but folks are starting to open those special bottles that they may have been saving for special occasions a little earlier on than they may have in the past.