Studiocanal the UK rights holders for the ’80s Rambo trilogy has re-released the 3 films in brand new 4K mastered Blu-Rays; there is also a 4K UltraHD release for you nerds. Hilariously they call them cult films in the press release when all three were HUGE box-office draws which is the antithesis of a cult film. They are interesting to watch back to back because no other trilogy I can’t think changed tone drastically from the first film to the second.
First Blood is the first film to feature John Rambo and unlike the sequels, it’s a fairly left-wing film in almost every regard. Sylvester Stallone at this point in his career was still being taken seriously as an actor and also a filmmaker, due to his involvement as not only the star of Rocky but the screenwriter and the director of the second and third Rocky films. John Rambo is a war hero, ex-Green Beret who is suffering a serious case of PTSD and basically takes on an entire small town after he is abused by the local police forces and is “triggered” which reminds him of his torture in Nam!
The director of Wake in Fright Ted Kotcheff was attached to the film for 6 years before it finally came out. He clearly had a tight grip on Stallone and got as nuanced a performance you could get from Stallone playing a character blowing the shit out of this small Washington town. Richard Crenna as Colonel and Brian Dennehy as Sheriff are great and are perfect antagonists for Stallone’s Rambo. Crenna was a replacement for Kirk Douglas who quit over an alleged script dispute.
Given the direction the series went very quickly it’s not surprising that the film has been underrated in lists of “Best Vietnam films”. The film despite its action stylings has a serious message about the pain Vietnam war veterans had been going through since the soldiers starting coming home in the ’60s. The ending was also drastically changed from the original David Morrell source novel which would’ve made sequels impossible.
The sequels emphasise the more lurid action aspects of the original, which has a sense of fun but loses the original intent of first film and the David Morrell novel. Rambo goes back to ‘Nam to try to find soldiers who went to missing in action in First Blood Part II. The third film until the 2008 sequel is set in Afghanistan two decades before the Bush administration’s “war on terror”. Given it’s the era of the Cold War the Russkies are the main antagonists in both films. The then President Ronald Reagan would state US military should be more like Rambo. Stallone’s creative input would increase over the series so much so that by the 4th he isn’t just writing the script but also directing the film. However he isn’t directing the upcoming fifth film and giving the director’s chair to Adrian Grunberg.
The first film is undeniably the best and it’s a fascinating jump from a very ’70s type downbeat film critical of the US government, to the blazing “let’s nuke those Russkies” right-wing borderline propaganda of the sequels. First Blood Part II is the better sequel partly because it has a James Cameron script (greatly rewritten by Stallone) and George Cosmatos directing, he is the father of Mandy director Panos. The trilogy isn’t in a boxset but available separately with new and old featurettes ranging from it’s place in ’80s cinema to bodybuilding along with commentary tracks and much more.