4. First Blood (1982)
Let’s get this out of the way first. This film is not called Rambo. It’s First Blood! Got it? First. Blood!
I freaking love First Blood. Not because of Rambo, though I’m a fan. Not because of Sly Stallone, or for the action either. I love this movie because it’s sooo early 80’s.
When Rambo brings the war home to the sleepy town of Hope Washington it’s like walking back into time. The old ugly cars, dingy store signs, and feel of 1982 Hope really bring me back. The police cruisers have those old big lights on them. The police office is full of old typewriters and tons of file cabinets. When the National Guard is brought out they all use early 80’s military equipment. I swear, I can even smell the 80’s through this movie. The car chase out of town is taken straight from the Dukes of Hazzard as the sheriff takes his car off the road, into the mud and catches some big air jumps in sweet slow motion. The guns all use old 80’s sound effects and have those cartoony ricochet sounds when they miss. It’s not crystal clear hi-def but instead grainy and faded like it was filmed on a camcorder. Even the music has that low audio quality 80’s tone to it. This film is nothing but pure nostalgia for me whenever I catch it on TV. All I need when I watch First Blood is an old pull tab beer and I’m all set. The fact that there is a solid movie behind behind all that early 80’s window dressing is pure bonus.
If you were born after 1998 and didn’t know, John Rambo is Vietnam War vet who has returned home from the conflict to find a United States that shuns it’s war heroes instead of embracing them like we do today. Rambo drifts from town to town looking for work because he is unable to hold down a job. Upon arriving in the small town of Hope Washington, aka Jerkwater USA, Rambo butts heads with the local thick headed sheriff who doesn’t want vagrants like him around to dirty up his quaint and quiet town. He arrests Rambo and has him processed back at the station. But Rambo freaks out amid a Nam flashback and attacks the police before escaping into the woods. Sheriff Teasle won’t have it and commits the local police and eventually the National Guard into stubbornly tracking him down. But Rambo isn’t just any veteran, he’s a Green Beret. “Trained to be the ‘best’, with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man trained to ignore pain. To ignore the weather, to live off the land. To eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personal. To kill! Period!” Rambo uses those skills to evade the police and return to town and lay waste to it in a grand rage of PTSD. Only a last second intervention by his old commanding officer Col. Trautman can talk him down from killing the Teasle who drew first blood against him.
In later movies Rambo is often depicted as some kind of superman, able to take down helicopters, tanks, and whole units of soldiers with only his bare hands and a bow and arrow. He’s an unbeatable American force of nature. But in First Blood, Rambo is just a normal guy. He gets hurt, he bleeds, he gets scared. He even cries. Scratch that, he bawls.
What also sets First Blood apart from it’s three sequels is the setting. Rambo isn’t in a foreign country wasting the enemy by the baker’s dozen. Here he’s up against other Americans. Most of the film is just him running and hiding. It’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect a Rambo movie to be. Restrained. As the film progresses we soon learn he could wipe out everybody easily. But he chooses not to and holds back which is against his instinct and training. Because of this, in First Blood Rambo is actually a character instead of the caricature he later becomes. And the film actually teaches an important lesson in how the US treated it’s returning soldiers so badly in the years after the difficult Vietnam War. It all adds up and makes a huge difference in the quality of the movie which is why First Blood is the best, and most untraditional Rambo movie ever.
Did you Know? An alternate ending to Rambo was filmed more in line with the book it was based on where Rambo kills the town Sheriff before committing suicide himself. It was filmed but test audiences found it too depressing.